Editorial | 12 May 2021

When to use Respiratory Face Masks

Guidance on which industries and professions need to use a respirator in the workplace.

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During the coronavirus pandemic face masks became part of everyday life. What we breathe on a daily basis is often overlooked, particularly in the workplace.

Certain professions and industries have high exposure to respiratory hazardous which can result in long term side effects. Did you know that between 2010 and 2015 there were an estimated 12,000 deaths each year because of long term exposure to respiratory hazards in the workplace?

Wearing a facemask is renowned for being uncomfortable, causing the mouth and nose to become hot, as well as putting unnecessary pressure on the nose and ears in some cases. As a result, people can be put off wearing them and in doing so exposing themselves to risk. Recognising this issue, Blackrock has developed our new Eazi-Breathe range of disposable respirators, designed to be extremely comfortable to wear, with innovative technology that increases air movement to keep the face cool.

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When to use a Respirator at Work

The health of a workforce can be at risk if they are exposed to substances described as irritants, corrosives, harmful or toxic. In such cases a respiratory face mask should be worn.

For more information on how to choose a respirator read our risk assessment blog >>>

Substances can become harmful as a direct result of worker activity. Practices that can produce harmful substances include:

Spraying – Paint and Aerosols create a toxic mist of liquid particles which can be inhaled. With paints, these particles form a solid after being inhaled.

Chemicals – Many substances release toxic fumes. Inhalation of chemical fumes can cause irritation of the eyes or nose, cough, blood in the sputum, and shortness of breath.

Some substances that can cause respiratory problems may not come with a safety alert:

Welding or Soldering – Inhaling fumes from solder flux can result in occupational asthma or worsen existing asthma conditions.

Gases – Inhaling gases or fumes can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Some paint fumes and cleaning fluids contain methylene chloride which the body breaks down into carbon monoxide. Long term complications from carbon monoxide inhalation include breathlessness, chest pains, fits and loss of consciousness.

Grinding or Sanding – Certain woods such as Yew contain highly poisonous taxane alkaloids which can make a person severely ill and even cause death. Inhaling sawdust, such as MDF dust, can cause breathing problems and lung diseases such as occupational asthma.

Brushing & Sweeping – Inhaling disrupted dust from wood, cement, metal, flour and rubber can cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis, an allergic reaction to dust, with symptoms such as shortness of breath and coughing.

The harm of inhaling these substances can be increased if employees have a pre-existing health condition such as bronchitis or asthma. Long term exposure to substances can cause workers to be become sensitised.

Industries and Professions where a Respirator should be worn

Examples of where a respiratory face mask should be used include but are not limited to:

  • Metal fusion
  • Spray painting
  • Carpentry
  • Solvent & chemical use
  • Dust exposure
  • Incineration
  • Laboratory animals
  • Pesticide spraying

It is crucial to wear the correct respirator for your profession. To find out more on which respirator is right for you, read our advice blog here:

If you are unsure if the environment you are working in requires a respirator then exposure monitoring may be required to determine the risk of respiratory hazards.

The importance of wearing a respirator cannot be understated. Even a few minutes’ exposure to harmful substances can make you ill. Whilst your colleague may never wear a respirator, everybody is affected differently and to varying extents.