Everyone knows that respiratory protection is crucial to the health and even survival of workers in many fields. Where toxic materials, such as gas or chemicals, are present, heavy-duty coverage, in the form of a respirator kit, for instance, is a legal, ethical, (and sometimes mortal) necessity. But many more situations than one might expect call for breathing protection. Here are five perhaps unpredictable examples of scenarios requiring respiratory protection, some of which anyone might encounter in the ordinary course of life.
Around cold and flu season, have you ever noticed people going about their day wearing healthcare masks covering their nose and mouth? You might imagine they used this respiratory protection to save themselves from breathing in airborne pathogens. On the contrary, it is more likely they were trying to protect you, and everyone else, from catching a bug they were battling themselves. Surgical masks are designed to trap respiratory secretions (including bacteria and viruses) expelled by the wearer and prevent disease or virus transmission to others. Masks prevent the spread of flu in the workplace and beyond by stopping the wearer’s cough or sneeze from spraying droplets on those around them. Wearing a mask for respiratory protection around the workplace when ill is a considerate step that may help stymy the spread of bothersome contagions.
Disasters such as hurricanes, floods and fires turn once-sturdy structures into debris, and such particulates call for significant respiratory protection in the form of dust mask respirators. In addition to wearing the proper work gloves, volunteers or employees who are cleaning out debris or recouping homes should be cautious of the inhalable airborne particles, such dust and mold spores that are stirred up when buildings are knocked down or grow when they are waterlogged. Such inhalable materials can produce coughing or breathing problems, particularly for those with allergies or asthma. Additionally, clean-up crews should protect their eyes from such harmful objects with a durable pair of safety glasses. Workers should be sure to use respiratory protection, especially around older homes, which may contain asbestos and lead-based paint that may be breathed in as dust.
As healthful as a breath of fresh air might be, it can also pose hazards in the form of allergens. From pollen to ragweed to spores from various trees, grasses and molds, the natural world, while beautiful, is full of things that can make us sniffle and sneeze – or worse – without the right respiratory protection. A day of gardening or landscaping can lead to severe reactions in those who suffer from even mild seasonal allergies. Those using powerful mechanical equipment such as lawnmowers or hedge trimmers are at particular risk, as such machines stir up large clouds of inhalable allergens around their operators. A filtering mask or respirator can help ensure that a day in the garden remains pleasant or a hard day’s work outside less burdensome.
There are dozens of welding safety tips you should know before undertaking any such task and respiratory protection is certainly one of them. Welding, or the process of joining metals by causing coalescence using a source of intense heat, can be a dangerous job. However, the hazards one typically associates with the process most likely relate to the high temperatures, flammable sparks and arc flashes it can produce. One might not realize that welding creates metal fumes that pose an equally real danger when inhaled. To avoid lung damage, prudent workers wear a welding respirator for breathing protection. Disposable respirators, which are small enough to fit under protective welding helmets, are a popular choice.
Working with Animals
Those who work with animals may develop debilitating allergies to them over time. While some estimate that as many of 15 percent of the human population is allergic to some animal species, the estimate is as high as 40 percent for those who regularly work with animals as part of their occupation, such as researchers or animal care providers. Asthma sufferers in particular put themselves at health risk by working with animals they are allergic to. Experts recommend wearing some form of respiratory protection, such as a ventilated hood, when working directly with animals one is allergic to. When not wearing a hood, workers should wear an approved NIOSH certified N95 respirator when in the animal facility.