Respiratory protection protects employees in work environments with insufficient oxygen or where harmful dust, fog, smoke, mist, fumes, gases or vapors may be present. The cost of not adequately protecting workers is high and includes health hazards like cancer, lung diseases and even death. An effective respiratory protection program should be designed to prevent exposure to harmful air and prevent occupational illness. In this section, we cover all aspects of respiratory protection, how to ensure workers are protected and how to gauge the effectiveness of a respiratory protection program


Respirators protect the wearer from inhaling chemicals and toxic materials. Without them, these hazards could have a devastating impact on the pulmonary and general health of workers. Simply wearing a mask, however, is not enough to ensure adequate protection. The mask needs to fit tightly but comfortably on the wearer’s face. To protect the wearer, the respirator needs to form a seal around the face to prevent the penetration of hazardous substances.

Users can sometimes feel that the respirator has been loosened and that the seal is broken, but judging the fit by feel alone is unreliable. For best results quantitative fit tests should be performed at least once a year to ensure that the respirator continues to provide optimal protection.

A fit test should also be performed any time an employee undergoes a change that could affect how well the respirator fits on them. Gaining or losing a significant amount of weight, for instance, could affect the respirator’s ability to create a protective seal. Growing facial hair could also compromise the respirator’s fit, and major dental work could affect the facial structure enough to make a difference as well.


Qualitative fit testing is a pass/fail test method that uses your sense of taste or smell, or your reaction to an irritant in order to detect leakage into the respirator facepiece. Qualitative fit testing does not measure the actual amount of leakage. Whether the respirator passes or fails the test is based simply on you detecting leakage of the test substance into your facepiece.


Quantitative fit testing uses a machine, such as the TSI PortaCount, to measure the actual amount of leakage into the facepiece and does not rely upon your sense of taste, smell, or irritation in order to detect leakage. The respirators used during this type of fit testing will have a probe attached to the facepiece that will be connected to the machine by a hose.


Simplify your fit test program with one consistent and objective fit testing experience across any respirator you use. SCBA masks, Air Purifying Respirators (APRs), and N95s for medical calls can all be fit tested with the PortaCount platform.

Achieve a better respirator fit for more staff in less time. The PortaCount Fit Tester boosts your productivity by making the entire respirator training and fit testing process more efficient.

Fast effective fit testing

Run multiple fit testing’s in one session

Fit checks all respiratory masks

Compliance is better than a cure, especially as it relates to respiratory protection, as most respiratory diseases are incurable.


Respirator fit testing is about more than compliance with standards or about “checking the box” as quickly as possible, it’s about safety. Staff working in dangerous environments deserve the very best protection possible from a respirator. PortaCount Fit Testers deliver safety by utilizing the most effective quantitative fit testing method available to identify poor fitting masks.


Selecting the right respirator is important. Ask yourself these questions to guide you in choosing the correct respiratory protection.

Level of respiratory hazard?

What are the possible contaminants?

Are the contaminants gas, particulates or vapour?

Duration of exposure?


Selecting the right respirator is important.

Here are some simple questions to ask when donning a respirator.

Does the mask sit correctly on the nose, face & cheeks?

Is there space for any eye protection?

Can the user still speak while wearing it?

Is the chin positioned properly?

Does the respirator fit over the bridge of the nose?

Does the respirator cover the entire space from nose to chin?


Finding the right type of mask, and making sure it fits the wearer, can mean the difference between life and death in environments where poisonous gases, dust, vapours and other hazards potentially exist. Know what the atmospheric conditions are to remain safe and choose the appropriate level of protection for that potential hazard. Below are the main categories of respiratory protection


Selecting the correct type of disposable mask starts with identifying the potential airborne contaminants which can be done via air sampling or testing. Disposable masks are identified by NIOSH numbers, and are designated with an N, R or P. N series filters are limited to atmospheres that are free from aerosolized oil. They can be used for any solid or liquid airborne particulates that do not contain oil. R series filters can be used for removal of any particulates, including oil-based liquid aerosols. P series filters  are designed to block 99.9 percent of particles .3 microns or larger. 


These are non-disposable respirators that all have two sets of straps, a mouth piece and two cartridge/filter pieces and will have a NIOSH approval on them. Half-face respirators will cover the nose and mouth area, whereas full-face respirators will cover the entire face. Both of these respirators will create a facial seal and filter the air entering and exiting the wearer’s airway. A distinct difference between disposable and half/full-face respirators is that in half/full-face respirators, the wearer can change through various filters and cartridges to meet various safety requirements, without having to change the mask entirely.


Powered air-purifying respirator (PAPRs) take contaminated air, remove a certain quantity of pollutants and return the air to the user. There are different units for different environments. The units consist of a powered fan which forces incoming air through one or more filters to the user for breathing. The fan and filters may be carried by the user or they may be remotely mounted and the user breathes the air through tubing.

The filter type must be matched to the contaminants that need to be removed. Some PAPR´s are designed to remove fine particulate matter, while others are suitable for working with volatile organic compounds as those in spray paints. These must have their filter elements replaced more often than a particulate filter.


There are two types of supplied air systems, Open Circuit and Closed Circuit. Open-circuit industrial breathing sets are filled with filtered, compressed air. The compressed air passes through a regulator, is inhaled and exhaled out of the circuit, quickly depleting the supply of air. The “positive pressure” type is more common, which supplies a steady stream of air to stop fumes or smoke from leaking into the mask. Other SCBA´s are of the “demand” type, which only supply air when the regulator senses the user inhaling. Closed-circuit type SCBA filters, supplements, and recirculates exhaled gas like a rebreather. It is used when a longer-duration supply of breathing air is needed, such as in mine rescue and in long tunnels, and going through passages too narrow for a large open-circuit air cylinder. Both Circuit types can be fitted to hoods, helmets, full and half facepieces.


They’re designed to filter out specific contaminants so that you can breathe safely. Typically, filters protect against particulates and cartridges protect against gas and vapors. Each cartridge or canister has a color code on them that tells you what it protects you from. Acid gas, chlorine gas, organic vapors, carbon monoxide and particulates all have a specific color. NIOSH determines the safe levels of contaminants that you can inhale.


Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear gas masks are effective only if used with the correct cartridge or filter (these terms are often used interchangeably) for a particular biological or chemical substance. Selecting the proper filter can be a complicated process. There are cartridges available that protect against more than one hazard, but there is no “all-in-one” filter that protects against all substances. You need to know what hazards you will face in order to be certain you are choosing the right filters.

You’re required to wear a respirator if you work with any of these hazards: insufficient oxygen, harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, chemicals, mists, gases, vapors, sprays, biological hazards, or silica.

Source: OSHA standards 1910.134 and 1926.103

More than 66,000 workers suffer from severe exposure to airborne contaminants each year

Source: United States Department of Labor



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