While it might not seem like the most important piece of equipment you’d be surprised at how many different ways you can mess up your lungs during basic home maintenance and do-it-yourself projects when not wearing a protective mask. It’s not just asbestos and paint fumes that you have to worry about there are a number of small particulates that can be damaging to your health with extended exposure. Here we’ll look at what kind of particulates you need to watch out for as well as how to get the right mask for the job.
It’s important when shopping for a protective mask to be able to understand the various safety regulations that are available as well as what different styles and models means. Let’s go over some of the basic differences between dust masks, respirators, and surgical masks. Each of these serves a fairly narrow purpose except for respirators which are more general air filtration masks with varying degrees of protection.
These are typically disposable cloth based masks (also known as filtering face piece masks) and their general purpose is filtering and blocking dust particles from getting into your lungs. Safety ratings for these masks include: N/R/P95 which will filter 95% of dust particles, N/R/P99 which will filter 99% of dust particles, and N/R/P100 which will filter 99.7% of dust particles. In general N/R/P99 or N/R/P100 masks are recommended for fine or dangerous dusts like silica or asbestos.These masks, however, are not suitable for chemical gases or vapors nor super heavy dust levels 10 times over the permissible exposure limit.
These masks may look very similar to dust masks or filtering face piece masks but in general they have less protection against small particles. The main purpose of these masks is to stop the transfer of microorganisms, bodily fluids, and large particulate matter. However, these masks do not provide great protection against small particulate matter and shouldn’t be relied upon for serious lung protection. These are usually cheaper, disposable, and best relegated to their primary purpose in healthcare. However, these will be better than nothing if that’s what’s available.
When it comes to serious solutions for the inhalation of particulate matter respirators are always going to outdo the disposable alternatives. These are half-face masks that are typically equipped with mechanical filters that can filter out (depending on the rating) up to 99.97% of all particulates. These filters are usually replaceable and make for a great permanent solution for protecting your lungs. Respirators can even be equipped with chemical cartridges for filtering out chemical gases and vapors. Safety ratings are the same as dust masks with N/R/P100 being the best available.