A respirator protects you from inhaling dangerous substances and is an important piece of personal protective equipment when working in hazardous environments. It is also an important part of an infectious disease preparedness plan.

This is just a general overview on the types of respirators available.

Particulate Respirators (aka, N-95 and “dust masks”) are air-purifying respirators because they clean particles out of the air as you breath. In particular, they:

  • Filter out dusts, fumes and mists
  • Are usually disposable dust masks or respirators with disposable filters
  • Must be replaced when they become discolored, damaged or clogged

Chemical Cartridge/Gas Mask Respirator, also an air-purifying respirator, includes a facepiece or mask and a cartridge or canister. They:

  • Use replaceable chemical cartridges or canisters to remove the contaminant.
  • Are color-coded to help you select the right one.
  • May require more than one cartridge to protect against multiple hazards.

Powered Air-Purifying Respirator (PAPR) uses a fan to draw air through the filter to the user. They use the same type of filters/cartridges as other air-purifying respirators, but it is important to know what the hazard is and how much of it is in the air to select the proper filters/cartridges.

Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is commonly used by firefighters. They provide clean air from a portable air tank when the air around is simply too dangerous to breathe.

Respirators vs Surgical Masks

Respirators are designed to reduce a worker’s exposure to airborne contaminants. They must fit the wearer’s face and provide a tight seal, but they offer the best protection for those working closely with people who have influenza-like symptoms. Typically used by those who work in occupations classified as very high exposure risk.

Surgical masks are used as a physical barrier to protect the user from hazards such as splashes of blood or body fluids. They protect other people against infection from the person wearing the surgical mask and are typically used to limit the spread of infectious respiratory secretions to others.

Questions to consider when you are considering which respirator to purchase.

  • What protection (which chemicals and particles, and at what levels) does the respirator provide?
  • Is there more than one size and which size should I use?
  • What type of training do I need?
  • Are there any special maintenance or storage conditions?
  • Will I be able to talk while wearing the respirator?
  • Does the hood restrict vision or head movement in any way?
  • Is a training respirator available?


General Respiratory Protection for Employers and Workers
Respirator Types (video)
Respirator Fit Testing {video)

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