FREQUENTLY ASKED RESPIRATOR SAFETY PROTECTION QUESTIONS
The following questions and answers provide additional information for use in selecting and using gas mask and escape respirators. At the end of this Fact Sheet, you will find a list of questions you should ask before purchasing a Gas Mask or Escape Respirator.
Q: Can I buy any Gas Mask or Escape Respirator and expect it to protect me from anything that might happen?
A: These respirators must be selected for protection against a specific hazard. The cautions, limitations and restriction of use provided with the respirator must be strictly followed. If your mask does not make a tight seal all the way around your face when you inhale, you may breathe contaminated air that leaks around the edges of the face seal. Anything that prevents the face mask from fitting tightly against your face, such as a beard or long sideburns, may cause leakage. Some respirators come in different styles and sizes, and fit different people differently because people's faces have different shapes. You also need training to know how to correctly put the mask on and wear it correctly. This information should be provided by the supplier of the respirator.
Q: If I have the right cartridges/filters for a certain hazard, and my mask fits, will they always protect me against that hazard?
A: Gas Masks and Escape Respirators reduce exposure to the hazard, but if the exposure is such that it goes beyond what the filter is capable of handling (either because the amount of toxic gas or particles is more than what the filter is designed to handle, or because the exposure lasts longer than what the filter is designed to handle), the filter may not be effective in providing required protection. Also, there may be a small amount of leakage even if the fit of the respirator has been tested. If so, and if there is large amount of a toxic chemical in the outside air, even that small leakage can be dangerous.
Q: Can anyone wear a respirator mask?
A: Breathing through a respirator is harder than breathing in open air. People with lung diseases such as asthma or emphysema, elderly people, and others may have trouble breathing. Some people with claustrophobia may not be able to wear a mask or hooded respirator. Some people with vision problems may have trouble seeing while wearing a mask or hood (there are special masks for people who need glasses).
Q: Will a gas mask protect children?
A: There are a variety of problems with fit and use of respirators for children, especially small children and infants. For example, currently available masks are unlikely to fit the faces of small children and infants. As with respirator use by anybody, fit-testing, training, and proper use and maintenance are essential.
Q: Will my cartridge/filter and respirator mask protect forever?
A: Cartridges, filters, and masks get old. Cartridges can have a limited life. If the filter cartridges that attach to the mask are outdated, have been open to the air or are damaged, you are not protected. Cartridges that contain charcoal or other chemicals for filtering the air should be in air-tight packages. If cartridges are open or not packed in air-tight packaging, they should not be used. Even cartridges in original packaging have expiration dates that should be checked before purchase. Also, over time your mask can get old and break down. Keep your mask in a clean, dry place, away from extreme heat or cold. Inspect it according to the manufacturers instructions.
Q: If I wear a Gas Mask correctly, am I completely safe?
A: The filter cartridges protect against only certain inhaled airborne substances. Some dangerous chemicals are absorbed through the skin. Properly selected and worn gas masks and escape respirators must be combined with protective clothing to completely prevent injury from these chemicals.
Q: Will a Gas Mask protect me if there is not enough oxygen in the air?
A: Gas Masks do not provide oxygen. If used in an environment with low oxygen levels, such as a fire, you are in danger of suffocation.
Q: Will a Gas Mask protect me if there is a fire?
A: It's important to read the manufacturer's information if your main concern is to be able to escape from a smoke-filled building. Smoke particles can rapidly clog gas mask filters, and filters with special chemicals are needed to protect against carbon monoxide and other gases that may occur in a fire. Not all gas masks and escape respirators protect against these hazards. Some components, including hoods and facepieces, of many of the gas masks and escape respirators may melt if exposed to a fire.
Q: Once I put on my Gas Mask or Escape Respirator, how long will it last?
A: That depends on how much filtering capacity the respirator has and the amount of hazard in the air - the more chemical or biological hazard in the air (higher concentration), the shorter the time your filter will last. There is no absolute time limit, and it will vary by each respirator model's capacities. That's why your emergency plan must include some idea of how to get to a safe area before the filtering capabilities of the mask runs out.
Q: How do I know a respirator will protect me against the hazards it claims to protect against?
A: No agency in the U.S. tests and certifies respirators for use by the general public, however, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tests and certifies respirators for use by workers to protect against workplace hazards. Respirators certified by NIOSH will say "NIOSH Approved" and may have a certification number. However, NIOSH only certifies respirators against specific hazards. Just because a respirator is certified does not mean it will protect against ALL hazards. NIOSH-certified respirators are supplied with Approval Labels that identify the hazards that the respirator is approved to protect against. If you are buying a respirator, you should check the Approval Label to be sure that it has been certified against the hazards you want protection against.
Q: What is the difference in a filter's rating? (N95, P95, P100, etc)
A: A filter, cartridge or mask's rating tells you what and how much particles are actually being filtered. Below is a list of a respirator rating letters and numbers, and what they mean:
- N: The letter "N" represents a mask or filter that is not resistant to oil-based particles.
- R: The letter "R" represents a mask or filter that is resistant to oil-based particles.
- P: The letter "P" represents a mask or filter that is oil proof.
- 95: A rating of 95 means it removes 95% of all particles that are at least 0.3 microns in diameter.
- 99: A rating of 99 means it removes 99% of all particles that are at least 0.3 microns in diameter.
- 100: A rating of 100 means it removes 99.97% of all particles that are at least 0.3 microns in diameter or larger. This is considered "HE" or "HEPA" quality, because it's considered "High Efficiency".