What is a Safety Respirator?

Sara Schmidt

A safety respirator is a device that protects people from inhaling harmful pollutants that can cause damage to one's health. Depending on the type of respirator needed, it may be a thin, single white mask, a large, dual-chambered device, or something in between. Safety respirators are typically fitted over both the mouth and nose, and are kept in place by a strap that circles the back of the head.

A man wearing a respirator.
A man wearing a respirator.

Respirators may be heavy duty grade, such as an industrial respirator. These respirators often feature dual filtration cartridges and are intended for workers who are exposed to vapors with low toxicity, such as industrial paint fumes. Smaller devices, such as the particulate respirator, can be used when workers are exposed to inhalants that are not considered deadly, but could still present a problem if inhaled, such as sand or sawdust.

Types of respirators differ depending on their purpose. A safety respirator works differently than a medical respirator. While a medical respirator is intended to help support an ill person who has trouble breathing, a safety respirator is designed to protect workers and prevent such medical conditions from occurring.

Several industries employ the use of safety respirators. People in the construction fields are often seen wearing respirators to protect them against inhaling fine powders, such as sawdust. Workers in the shipyard, automotive, environmental safety, and medical fields may have to wear respirators while on the job. Some workers, such as those who work with toxic chemicals throughout the day, may be required to wear masks full time. Workers who are exposed to hazardous inhalants for part of the day may not be required to wear safety masks all day, or even every day.

In the United States, standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, are used to develop appropriate safety respirators for the workplace. An OSHA respirator is intended to protect a worker from many different toxins. These may include but are not limited to fogs, sprays, mists, gases, vapors, and smokes. Harmful materials, such as asbestos or pesticides, that can be emitted through these forms should not affect workers as much, if at all, when a proper safety respirator is used.

Without a safety respirator, workers can face a variety of problems. Employers may be fined or even shut down for not complying with work safety standards set in their area. Workers who work with harmful materials and fail to wear a safety respirator may develop diseases such as asthma or cancer. Many workers can eventuatlly die without the protection of a safety respirator.

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