Dust masks (particulate respirators) are to be used in the workplace where airborne particulates such as housekeeping dust, earthwork dust, dirt & grit, outdoor demolition, and equipment cleaning, are generated or are present as part of the environment. Dust masks protect the worker’s lungs and airway from damage due to the inhalation of airborne particulate matter. Dust masks may be worn even when a ventilation system is in place and operational. Dust masks are not approved for asbestos exposure or any other airborne hazardous material. Long term exposure to airborne particulates can cause extreme respiratory problems. The best dust mask removed 68% of the airborne contaminant.
Following are guidelines for the use of dust masks:
✓ Always review product labels and safety data sheets (SDS) on the chemicals and material that you are working with. Many chemicals and materials will not be filtered by a dust mask and the use of a respirator is required.
✓ Dust masks are to be used for airborne particulates and are not suitable for hazardous levels of vapors and extremely fine particulates. Dust masks do not clean the air of solvents or chemicals
✓ Change your dust mask frequently and whenever you note any discoloration from the accumulation of particulates.
✓ Since your airflow will be slightly reduced, it is important to take frequent breaks while wearing a dust mask. A dust mask with an exhalation valve may assist breathing. Take your breaks in fresh air and remove the mask.
✓ If you feel faint or develop a headache, stop work immediately and get some fresh air. Locate the source of your symptoms, and correct the problem before returning to work. Dust masks are not appropriate for oxygen deficient environments.
✓ Ensure that your dust mask fits you snugly. Pull the top strap across the crown of your head. If you feel air leaking around the edges of the mask adjust the mask or switch to a different mask.
✓ Dust masks should also be designed to fit over the bridge of the nose. Many dust masks have a nose clip which when adjusted properly helps to seal that area of the mask to the face. It is important that the nose is covered snugly to ensure that airborne particulates do not enter the lungs through the nose. Pinch the nose piece to fit the bridge of your nose and get a good fit.
✓ Beards may interfere with the proper fit of dust masks. Beards, or any facial hair which interferes with proper fitting, should not be worn when respiratory protection is necessary.
✓ Dust masks are to be used only by one person. Never share or re-use dust masks.
✓ Dust masks (particulate respirators) are designed for many different uses from roadwork, hauling, sweeping, sawing, and grinding to nuisance level odor control, and substance specific contaminant filtering. Choosing the right design for your task will increase the usefulness of these devices.
Restricting the total time workers are exposed to an air contaminant is an important method of respiratory protection. Properly used, dust masks protect workers from hazards but a dust mask does not eliminate the hazards. A dust mask is a form of personal protective equipment; however, if a dust mask is inappropriate for a particular airborne hazard, the user risks exposure. Appropriate protection depends upon selecting, wearing, and using the correct personal protective equipment properly.
“Clean air is a basic right. The responsibility to ensure that falls to us.”
Tom Carper, US House of Representatives