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Proper Fit Is Key to Respiratory Safety


Grain dust, moulds, pollen, animal dander, soil dust and welding fumes are just a few of many farm-related respiratory hazards. Exposure can cause immediate and long-term respiratory illnesses, such as farmers’ lung, asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and other irreversible, incurable ailments.

When selecting a respirator, there are several things to consider. Respirators are rated in the following categories: N Series, which mean not resistant to oil; R Series, which means resistant to oil; and P Series, which means oil-proof. A mask with an N95 rating is not resistant to oil and has a 95 per cent filter-efficiency rating. Filter efficiency means the percentage of particulates removed by the filter. There are three levels of filter efficiency: 95 per cent, 99 per cent and 99.97 per cent. The higher the efficiency, the lower the leakage.

There are many different types and sizes of disposable respirators or dust masks available — so be sure to find one that is comfortable for you. Also ensure you only select a product with NIOSH or CSA Group certification. You can expect to pay between $1 and $4 per N Series respirator — a small investment that will make a big difference in your long-term health. These respirators should be discarded after one use.

To ensure a proper fit, a Negative Fit Test should be performed:

1) Place the mask over your mouth and nose, and adjust straps so that the mask fits snugly.
2) Place your hands over the respirator so that no air can enter.
3) Breathe in and hold your breath.
4) The mask should suck in against your face and stay there for ten seconds after you have stopped breathing in.
5) If the mask does not collapse against your face or immediately releases, readjust the straps and repeat steps 1 through 4. If you cannot maintain a tight seal, try a different size, make or model of respirator until you find one that does seal. A respirator may not fit properly if you wear dentures, have facial scarring, are not clean-shaven or have had a broken facial bone or facial surgery.

Respirators must be stored in a clean dry place in a tight container or a sealed plastic bag when not in use, so they are protected from dust, sunlight, extreme heat and cold, moisture, chemicals and physical damage. Keep respirators in a convenient location close to where they are to be used.

Theresa Whalen, CFA is a farm-safety consultant and the communications and marketing specialist with the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council in Ottawa.