An air-supplied respirator is a piece of safety equipment that protects the airways when a worker is in an environment with toxic materials. It supplies a clean source of air, unlike a standard respirator, which merely filters air from the surrounding environment. In some settings, use of this type of respirator is required by law. In others, it may be strongly recommended for worker health and safety.
Personnel who use air-supplied respirators have several options for connecting to a source of air. One is to use an airline system in an environment like a laboratory. In these settings, the building is plumbed with an air supply and personal plug-in to taps at their workstations. Workers do not need to worry about running out of air in this setting, as long as the building maintains the supply. It can draw air from the outside through a filtration system or may use tanks of air if the setting calls for it.
Another option is to carry an air supply. This is necessary for mobility, or in settings where a dedicated airline system is not available. A tank can carry a limited supply of air, and it is necessary to monitor the supply of air and step out for a fresh tank when the tank starts to show a low volume of air. This type of air-supplied respirator can be seen among people like first responders, who need to be able to quickly enter a scene with potentially toxic materials and must bring their air with them.
Use of an air-supplied respirator is recommended whenever the environment has topic mist, fumes, dust, vapors, and particles. There is a risk of inhalation, which could lead to serious illness or even death. Personnel in these environments may also need to wear protective clothing, as they could experience skin irritation from the toxins. They also typically receive special training in how to handle toxic materials safely.
The air-supplied respirator can be uncomfortable. They are often tight and may come with limited visibility, which can sometimes cause distress in the wearer. It is important to fit an air-supplied respirator carefully, consulting a technician if necessary to check the fit and confirm that all the connections are firmly seated and will not come loose. Some companies manufacture a range of styles, and it may be necessary to try several designs to find one a worker is comfortable in.