A metal shop worker is using the 3M Versaflo Respirator System, which combines respiratory, head, eye and face, and hearing protection.

PAPRs and SARs for the World

Loose-fitting powered and supplied-air respirators offer increased comfort and productivity -- a better experience for all concerned.

Powered-air purifying respirators (PAPRs) and supplied-air respirators (SARs) are often thought of as heavy, bulky, expensive, and unnecessary. Unfortunately, this mindset often overlooks the positive aspects these products can bring to a company and its employees. The evolution in design of PAPR and SAR systems makes these respirators increasingly valuable to employers looking for ways to improve worker safety while simultaneously increasing both comfort and productivity and reducing administrative burdens and cost.

Why use a loose-fitting powered or supplied-air product? Today, more than ever, managers are being charged with initiatives to cut cost and increase productivity. The United States has experienced a reduction in the number of industrial workers (especially during 2009), and with continued uncertainty about the future, many companies are reluctant to hire and train new employees. These companies need to look to the installed base of workers and find ways to increase productivity. The addition of powered or supplied-air respirators as part of the company's respirator protection program may help to do just that. Here are some things to consider.

Selecting the Proper Control Method
Use of engineering controls, such as local exhaust ventilation, is always the preferred method of controlling worker exposure to hazardous materials. When this is not feasible, respirators may be used to help protect the workers. All occupational respirator use must follow the OSHA respiratory protection standard, 29 CFR 1910.134, which includes provisions for selection, training, medical clearance, breathable air, etc. Selection of respirators must be conducted carefully to ensure the respirator selected provides the requisite level of filtration.

The first step in proper respirator selection is knowing which chemicals the worker must be protected against and the airborne concentration of those chemicals. The selected respirator must be able to protect against those chemicals and have an adequate assigned protection factor (APF) for the concentrations noted. Per 29 CFR 1910.134(b), "APF means the workplace level of respiratory protection that a respirator or class of respirators is expected to provide to employees when the employer implements a continuing, effective respiratory protection program as specified by this section." The airborne concentration of the chemical divided by the APF must be lower than its OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL). Respirators always must be used within their APFs and the regulatory requirements of 1910.134. PAPRs and SARs with hoods, helmets, or full facepieces may have APFs up to 1,000. PAPRs and SARs utilizing loose-fitting facepieces or headcovers (where the respirator is loose and connects with the user's face along the jaw line) have APRs of 25.

Benefits include:

  • Increased comfort. With a PAPR or a SAR, the worker is relieved of the burden of having to be the power source for the respirator. The respirator itself does the work of supplying clean, filtered air to the wearer. The movement of the air supplied by the respirator across the worker's head and face also may provide a cooling feeling to the worker. SAR units can even be equipped with vortex cooling assemblies that can reduce the temperature of the air supplied to the respirator system by as much as 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If a hood with an inner shroud is used, this air can be funneled into the worker's clothing to provide additional cooling, which can be a significant advantage when impermeable worker protective clothing is worn. Similarly, air heating options are also available.
  • Elimination of fit testing. Loose-fitting respirators -- such as PAPRs and SARs with hoods, helmets, or loose-fitting headcovers -- do not require fit testing per the OSHA respiratory protection standard (1910.134(f)). Dispensing with fit testing saves the money of conducting the actual fit test, as well as minimizing worker time away from the job. Note: PAPRs and SARs with tight-fitting face pieces still require annual fit testing.
  • Accommodating facial hair. Respirators utilizing tight-fitting facepieces have strict limitations on facial hair. With loose-fitting PAPR and SAR systems, provided the facial hair does not interfere with the headgear sealing area, a person can have limited facial hair, comply with OSHA regulations, and maintain the protection provided by the respirator. This feature is particularly accommodating to workers with facial hair due to religious preferences and workers who suffer from folliculitis. Folliculitis is inflammation of hair follicles, which can make it almost impossible for a worker to shave. A loose-fitting PAPR or SAR is a possible option for workers with this condition.1
  • Reduced fogging. In some work areas where safety glasses and a faceshield are required, fogging can be a both an annoyance and a potential safety issue. PAPR and SAR systems can generate a constant airflow across the headgear visor, which may reduce or eliminate fogging.

Bundled/Integrated PPE
Aggressive work environments may require use of multiple types of personal protective equipment (e.g., respirator, faceshield, hard hat, hearing protection). Simultaneous use of multiple types of PPE can be problematic because they may not be designed to work effectively and efficiently together. With proper selection, PAPR and SAR systems can be tailored to the application and include in one system combinations of head, face, respiratory, and hearing protection -- all designed to fit and be worn together to maximize comfort and effectiveness.

Medical Evaluations
Workers required to use respirators must undergo a medical evaluation to help determine whether they can safely wear a respirator. Because of the increased load a negative pressure respirator can place on the cardiovascular system, a worker may be medically disqualified from wearing the respirator. However, as noted above, PAPR and SAR systems can greatly reduce this added load. A person medically disqualified from wearing a negative pressure respirator still may be able to be approved to wear a PAPR or SAR and, therefore, continue to work safely at the job. As with any PPE, the ergonomics of the system must be considered, as well.

Improved Product Design
Allowing the worker to adjust where the air is being distributed within the headgear can help minimize complaints.Companies that manufacture PAPR and SAR systems have recognized the need to incorporate design elements that help make systems easier to use and enhance the overall appeal of their products.

Some of these enhancements include:

  • Design, weight, and environmental considerations. A well-designed/-styled system can help to promote worker acceptance, which is an important factor in increasing use. Some recently introduced PAPRs incorporate a sleeker, lighter, more ergonomic design. Some current PAPR designs shield the air inlet, which allows the worker to sit in a chair without blocking off airflow, or allow the PAPR to be worn in a decontamination shower without exposing the filter to direct water spray. Changing to lithium ion batteries from older nickel cadmium or nickel metal hydride batteries can significantly reduced both the size and weight of powered air respirators. In addition, replacement of nickel cadmium batteries also has the environmental advantage of eliminating a toxic, heavy metal (cadmium) from the waste stream.
  • User interface systems. Some modern PAPRs can communicate to the worker to warn when the battery pack charge is running low, the particulate filter is clogging, or other malfunction is occurring that may cause the PAPR system to yield insufficient airflow. Some battery packs now come equipped with a charge indicator, where the worker presses a button on the battery to determine the current charge status of the battery pack. This helps ensure the battery pack has sufficient capacity for the duration of the task.
  • Adjustable airflow distribution. Worker preference is always an important consideration. A PAPR or SAR system incorporating a hood or helmet that allows the worker to adjust where the air is being distributed within the headgear can help minimize complaints related to issues such as eye irritation, fogging, or a sense there is an insufficient supply of air.
  • Accessories to enhance individual wear comfort. To help accommodate various preferences and work environments, most manufacturers will offer accessories for their PAPR or SAR systems. For example, manufacturers may offer backpacks and suspenders as an alternative to belt mounting for blower units, radiant heat kits for work in hot environments, or communications devices to help the worker better communicate with other personnel.

Productivity Model
Various calculators and models are available on the Internet to help assess productivity gains from PAPRs and SARs.2 These calculators and models can help answer questions such as these:

  • How much is our company spending every year on injuries caused by improper eye protection products?
  • How much is spent on fit testing of respirator products to meet OSHA requirements?
  • What is the monetary impact of extra employee break times due to uncomfortable workplace conditions, such as warm temperatures or uncomfortable safety products?
  • If we could increase worker productivity through the use of a PAPR or SAR, how much would that impact our output? How much would that save us in the costs associated with downtime and maintenance work?
  • If we could increase quality of work, how much could we save in scrap and rework?

Loose-fitting PAPRs or SARs offer more than just respiratory protection. In addition to providing opportunities to help increase employee comfort and productivity, including PAPRs or SARs in your respirator program can provide your employees with a mutually beneficial choice in protection.

1. Merck Manual: http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec18/ch211/ch211e.html
2. 3M Productivity Tool: http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/Health/Safety/Support/One/
NIOSH Productivity Tool: www.cdc.gov/niosh/programs/global/economics.html

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Authors

Kevin McGuigan is Product Marketing Manager, Powered & Supplied Air Respirators, for 3M Company in St. Paul, Minn. For more information, visit 3M's website at www.3M.com/OccSafety or call 800-328-1667.

Don Garvey, CIH, CSP, CHMM, is an industrial hygienist with the 3M Personal Safety Division in St. Paul, Minn., and is the 3M construction/oil & gas industry technical specialist.

Barry R. Weissman is a Registered Environmental Manager, a Certified Safety Professional, a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager, and a Fellow of the Institute of Hazardous Materials Managers. He is Certified in Homeland Security at Advanced Level 5 and is a Certified Infrastructure Preparedness Specialist. Barry is a frequent contributor to various safety magazines and online forums and co-author of the chapter on Hazardous Wastes in the ASSE Safety Professionals Handbook. He is a speaker at various national safety, hazardous materials and homeland security conferences. In addition, he is the moderator of RegulatoryPost, a Yahoo! Group providing regulatory updates, safety tips and links to training materials. You can subscribe to RegulatoryPost by sending a blank email to: [email protected]

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