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Important Considerations in Choosing a Paint Respirator

There are a lot of options for respirators. Choosing the correct one for your application is critical to ensure your operator is painting safely. If a respirator is incorrect for your application or not maintained properly an operator can suffer health consequences. With so many options how are you supposed to correctly identify the proper respirator? Consider these following suggestions and you should be able to ensure you select the proper respirator for your painting needs.

Is your coating Single or Plural Component?

  • If you are spraying single component coatings you should utilize a R or P 95 approved respirator or higher with a pre filter and organic compound cartridge. In easy to understand terms this is a respirator with an oil resistant (R) or strongly oil resistant (P) pre filter along that removes 95% of particulates and a filter that eliminates volatile organic compounds from the air you breathe. Volatile organic compounds (VOCS) are the harmful compounds found in solvents which are used in coatings. Removal of VOC’s occurs via carbon based cartridges.
  • If you are spraying paints that have isocyanates in them make sure you are using a force fed atmosphere air respirator, this is a respirator with a self-contained air supply pump that is placed in a clean environment to provide clean air to the operator. For reference most 2 component coatings have isocyanates but ultimately you should check all of your material safety data sheets to ensure you do not overlook any coatings containing isocyanates.  Atmospheric air respirators are recommended with isocyanates because isocyanates are odorless and tasteless making it difficult for the operator to know when they need to change their cartridge filter; if you cannot maintain a change out program use an air respirator. If you know you can adhere to a filter change out program you can confirm with OSHA to ensure it is safe to use a cartridge respirator.

How dirty is your spray environment?

  • If you will be painting in an environment heavily contaminated with dust or dirt consider using a higher R rated filter as it will remove more of the dust and potential irritants from the air. The NIOSH minimum is a 95 percent efficient filter with an organic compound filter to remove harmful compounds.

Do you have oil aerosols in your painting environment

  • If you have oil aeresols you should use a P 95 or higher rated respirator as a P95 respirators cartridge is meant to operate in an environment with oil contaminants from aerosols if you are unsure it is always a good idea to utilize a R rated respirator as they are oil resistant respirator filters.

How long will you be painting?

  • If you are painting for more than 8 hours you need to be utilizing a force fed air respirator or performing workplace tests to ensure your filter doesn’t allow for over exposure to harmful chemicals during long hours this is due to limitations on how much exposure to particulate you can incur in a given time period. In general, anyone who is painting a lot (> 8 hours a day) will benefit and potentially will require a force fed atmospheric air respirator by reducing the amount of hazardous chemicals they are exposed to.  Alternatively it is always a good idea to consult with NIOSH guidelines here which are the ultimate reference for filter and respiration information.
  • Operator comfort is important as well.  If you are painting long hours considering a hood or helmet style air respirator will increase operator comfort.

By adhering to the recommendations addressed above and more importantly consulting the resources given in this article you can ensure you are providing your painters with the right equipment to safely paint without putting themselves at risk for harm. For further information on respirator types, a selector tool, and fit testing make sure to visit NIOSH and OSHA.

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