Whether you work in a warehouse full of particulate matter or you restore wood floors for a living, respiratory protection is essential to your good health. Without using a breathing mask as respiratory protection, you risk exposing yourself (or your employees) to everything from throat irritation to potential lung damage. These are not risks you want to take.
Depending on the environment, you may not need a very complicated mask. Sometimes you’ll just need a barrier between you and the dust. Other times, you’ll need to make sure your mask can protect you from even the smallest particles in the air.
Don’t worry. Breathing masks are available in a wide range of sizes and prices. Before you choose a specific type of mask, you need to define your environment so you can pick an appropriate level of protection.
Essential Questions to Ask
Before you get started wearing respiratory protection, you need to ask yourself a few essential questions, such as:
Are you concerned about air pollution and particulate matter in the air? For example, do you live near a burning dump where ashes are common in the air? Or are you visiting a country with unregulated factory emissions?
Are you a hobbyist who works around wood chips and sawdust? In other words, are you trying to avoid swallowing dust, but not too concerned about dangerous chemicals?
Do you work in a factory with irritating chemical odors? Do you need to filter the air, rather than just block out ash or dust?
Do you need a mask that provides both respiratory protection and eye protection at the same time? If so, you’ll want to make sure that there is appropriate air flow so that the eye portion of the mask doesn’t fog up.
Are you concerned about exposing a loved one to your cold? If you live with someone who has a compromised immune system, keeping airborne germs away from them can be essential.
Are you renovating a home and unsure what you’ll find during demolition? You might need a mask that protects you from potential mold spores as well as dust.
Are you worried about people around you? In many places in the world, it’s common to wear a face mask in public places to protect yourself from other people’s sneezes and coughs.
Once you’ve defined your needs, you’ll also need to consider how the protective gear allows you to function properly. It is crucial that the design and form of the product adheres to your direct needs. Consider the following:
It is essential that any respiratory mask fits correctly. Look for adjustable straps that allow you to tighten the mask enough so you can create a good seal. Also, don’t underestimate comfort. A mask should fit well, but not be so tight that it irritates your face.
Faces come in different shapes and sizes, so do good respiratory masks. Some masks are even made to fit kids. If your mask doesn’t fit your face, it won’t be effective.
Make sure that the mask provides enough ventilation so that it’s easy to breathe. If a mask is difficult to breathe through or if it makes you feel overheated, you won’t use it—and that defeats the purpose.
In addition to adjustable straps to keep the mask close to your face, is there a strap that allows the mask to hang around your neck? This will be important if you need to take the mask off and put it back on multiple times a day. With the neck strap, the mask won’t be misplaced or lost during the day.
In some cases, cost will be a factor. Whether you’re buying masks just for yourself or you’re in charge of purchasing for a large organization, you’ll want to consider price.
Does disposable work for you? Not all masks are available in disposable varieties. The more complicated ventilator masks are high tech and built to last, but some of the simpler face masks are disposable after a use or two.
Do you need a mask with ventilation so that you’re able to wear it for hours at a time? Make sure to check the manufacturer’s specifications and try this type of mask out for yourself to ensure it will work for your needs.
Your needs will be different depending on whether you’re a firefighter or a surgeon, so do your research and get the appropriate respiratory protection. There are plenty of available options no matter what your budget. Whatever type of mask you decide on, remember your health (and the health of your employees) is important, and the right protection is essential to everyone’s health.