Even if you’re using top-quality respiratory masks, it is important that you take certain precautions. These precautions include immediately leaving the contaminated area to confirm that the filters and/or mask are well-secured in the event that you smell, taste or feel the chemicals. You should take the same action in case you feel dizzy, drowsy, nauseous, confused, irritated, or stung.
In other words, if something feels wrong, take action. Important to note is that exposure to some chemicals does not have any noticeable symptoms. A number of dangerous chemicals are tasteless and odorless and can cause severe injury or death before any symptoms are noted.
Fit testing should always be done for respirators using the appropriate materials. Kits for fit testing can be found on the websites of well-established manufacturers of respirators. During fit testing, you wear a respirator inside a hood into which a mist is sprayed. You then test certain patterns of breathing to determine whether you can detect the mist.
A good fit test is used to confirm that the mask fits securely. It is, however, important to note that a fit test is not used to show whether the filters are effective in a particular contaminated area. For proper application, you have to choose the right filter and use the mask only in sites that have been inspected by certified auditors.
Cartridges and filters
The nature of the environment and the measure of the hazards determine the type of cartridges and filters you should use for your mask. Respiratory mask manufacturers list the cartridges and filters on their websites.
There may be a number of situations where fit testing is not available. In these cases, there is an alternative way to confirm whether the mask fits properly. Just keep in mind that this is not a formal test and is therefore limited in reliability. As much as possible, make sure that tests are conducted by certified professionals.
The unofficial/informal test follows the following steps:
- Wear the mask normally and secure the straps.
- Gently place your hands over the holes of the filter mount, making sure you do not press inward.
- Take a breath.
If the mask fits properly, breathing should be impossible. Otherwise, there is a leak in the mask and you should replace it with another one.
Rating for filters and dust masks
Manufacturers provide ratings for the performance of the filters as well as the type of environment they can be used in. Keep in mind that breathing fatigue increases with the number and letter rating of the respirator. On one hand, you certainly want to avoid choosing a mask with a rating that is too low.
On the other hand, using a respirator with a high rating might not be ideal for every situation. It is best that you shop around and try and strike a balance. However, as a rule, you are better off erring on the side of caution when it comes to selecting respirators for any application.