What is a Chemical Respirator?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A chemical respirator is a piece of safety equipment designed to protect people from inhaling hazardous chemicals while on the job. A number of companies make chemical respirators, some intended for very specific uses, and they can be ordered through supply catalogs. In workplaces where occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals is a risk, the employer is required to provide appropriate safety equipment, in addition to observing safety precautions in areas where these chemicals are handled, generated, and used.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Chemical respirators work by passing air through a cartridge. The cartridge traps chemicals while allowing clean air to freely flow through. Over time, it slowly becomes clogged and needs to be changed. Many have indicators so people know when they need to replace their chemical respirator cartridges, with the goal of avoiding situations where people do not get enough air because of an aging cartridge.

Designs can include basic models designed to fit over the nose and mouth, filtering air people breathe, along with models including full hoods to protect the entire face from chemicals in the environment. People can also wear suits over their bodies. More protection may be needed in cases where people could absorb chemicals through their skin or could experience skin reactions to chemicals. Usually, specific hazardous chemicals come with recommendations for safety gear so people can select the most appropriate equipment to use while working with those chemicals.

Working in a chemical respirator can be uncomfortable. Many people find that they get hot and sweaty, especially in full coverage hoods, and it can be hard to see clearly both because of a limited range of vision created by the gear and as a result of fogging. People may also dislike the taste of the air after it has passed through the cartridge. Time and practice is usually required to learn to wear a chemical respirator comfortably while performing various tasks.

In the workplace, safety officers may be tasked with periodically inspecting respirator gear to make sure it is working and replace or repair any parts of concern. People working with hazardous chemicals on their own should take special precautions to make sure they are adequately protected. It is advisable to have a maintenance schedule with checklists so people can keep track of when they last inspected their safety gear. Things like replacement of worn cartridges should be logged so people know when they will need to conduct this routine chemical respirator maintenance again.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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