There are a variety of jobs in construction that require respirators. For example:
Grinding, cutting materials that produce dust
Welding which produces fumes
Mixing chemicals which produce vapours or mists
Entry into confined spaces
Construction in areas containing toxic substances
Clean-up procedures which use solvents, acids, alkalis, and/or may create dusts, fumes, mists, vapours or gases
Immediate and Long-Term Effects
If you are working unprotected around respiratory hazards, you could suffer from immediate or long-term effects.
Immediate: Effects will become evident in seconds, minutes or hours. Examples of immediate effects are:
Shortness of Breath
Long term: Some hazards show no ill related short-term effects. After many years of exposure, or many years after a single high level exposure, the results become evident. Examples of long-term effects include:
Impaired lung function
Cancer of the lung(s)
Becoming sensitive to certain chemicals
Know the Code of Practice: Using respiratory protective equipment requires training. Make sure you get proper training for the specific type of equipment you need to use and suitable protection for the hazard present.
The Right Fit
Respiratory protection only works if it fits right:
Make sure your equipment fits you - there are different sizes available.
Do not strap equipment on too tight - firm but comfortable gives the best seal.
Beards, sideburns, moustaches, and stubble are not permitted with respirator use - they prevent a good seal.
Fit test to verify seal!
Eye glasses may affect the fit - corrective lenses can be mounted inside a full face piece.
Do not wear contact lenses - dry air causes problems.
Be aware of the temperature. Cold temperatures can cause fogging, valve sticking, and rubber stiffness. A nose cup can reduce fogging.
Remember - always test the fit of the respirator before using it. If it doesn't fit, don't use it! And always don the equipment in a safe atmosphere, away from the hazard.
The Choice is Yours
Different respirators are used for different hazards. To make sure you use the right respiratory protection, follow these steps:
Decide if you need respiratory protection. Ask yourself - have all other methods of controlling the hazard been considered first?
Find out everything you need to know about the hazard. If the hazard is a controlled product, look at the WHMIS label and read the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). It will tell you what protection you need.
Chose the right protection.
Remember - unknown atmospheres can be deadly.
Dust masks are used for nuisance dusts such as sawdust. They are not suitable for concrete dust. Make sure the nose clip fits easily over the bridge of your nose. Dust masks provide minimum protection.
Air purifying respiratory devices are very common in construction. However, this equipment has a number of limitations. Air purifying respirators:
Do not protect against oxygen deficient atmospheres (these atmospheres require supplied air)
Cannot be used for entry into immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) atmospheres such as hydrogen sulfide
Cannot be used with substances with poor warning properties (no odor, eye irritation, or respiratory irritation, like hydrogen sulphide and carbon monoxide)
Know the type of contaminant
Air purifying respirators only work if you use the right cartridge and/or filter for the specific contaminant. There are two types:
Mechanical filters stops solid particles. When breathing becomes difficult, it is time to change the filter.
Chemical filters soak up substances. There is little to indicate when the filter is used up, so be aware of time limits for the particular hazard.
Using the wrong cartridge is often worse than using nothing at all because you get a false sense of security. Know the color coding system.
Air supplying respirators come in a variety of types. There are self-contained breathing apparatus(SCBA), air hoods, full body suits, and airlines or work packs. Since air supplying respirators are used for IDLH atmospheres, you need to be properly trained, use safe work procedures, and follow the code of practice. ILHL means "Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health."
Never enter an atmosphere requiring an air supplying respirator if you are not 100% confident with the use of the equipment and job procedures.
Records of Use
Keep records of use for all respiratory equipment. How much time has a cartridge been used? When was the last time respirators were carefully checked over? This is part of the Code of Practice.
Maintenance and Care
Always inspect respiratory equipment before use. Replace all parts that are cracked, torn, broken, missing or worn.
After each use, test and clean your equipment. Wash it in warm soapy water.
Store equipment at the end of each shift. Protect it from dust, sunlight, heat, cold, excessive moisture, and chemicals.
Remember - only trained personnel can repair respirators. Do not mix parts from different manufacturers and always follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Think About Other Solutions
Respiratory protection equipment is personal protective equipment (PPE). As with other PPE, like hard hats and steel-toed boots, respiratory protection is always used as the last resort. Always try to use other controls first to eliminate or reduce the hazard. Here are some things you can do:
Substitute safer products (use less toxic solvents)
Ventilate to improve air quality
Isolate the hazard (use fume hoods to exhaust contaminants)
Change the work procedure (use high pressure water blasting to cut concrete)
Put a barrier or distance between the worker and the hazard
If you need to use respiratory equipment, make sure you use it right! Proper use of respirators can save lives. Remember, if in doubt, contact your supervisor!
For more information, refer to current applicable Occupational Health and Safety Legislation.