Respirator filters are rated according to how much particulate matter they can reliably block and what environments they’re best suited for. This is why you’ll see respirators and filters with names like N95 or P100. The letter refers to how resistant the product is to oil, how tightly the material is woven, and the static charge contained in the material. The number represents the percentage of particles that are filtered out.
When it comes to personal respiratory protection, P100 is the highest you can get. As long as the mask fits properly, a P100 filter will block 99.9% of particles .3 microns or larger, making it virtually impenetrable. P100 filters are strongly oil-resistant, which means they can protect against all types of solid and liquid particles in the atmosphere and can be used (but degrade faster in) atmospheres with oil-based particles. If you’re interested in a comprehensive but technically worded guide to particulate respirators, the CDC has all of the details.
Not every mask or filter, and not every P100 mask, is well-suited for all hazards. In general, employers know what kinds of hazards workers will be up against, and they will know whether to invest in an all-purpose multi-gas cartridge, protection against organic vapors and acid gases, protection from fumes, protection from biological hazards, or protection from solid hazards ranging from sawdust to asbestos. It’s also worth considering how comfortable the properly fitted mask will be: some jobs take longer than others, and wearing the proper PPE for the length of the shift is the only way to get proper protection.
Combination cartridges (a P100 filter and activated charcoal cartridge layered on top of one another in one cover) are used in a number of worksites because they’re convenient and protect wearers from a range of worksite hazards. However, if the filter gets clogged and hard to breathe through, or you start to smell fumes through the cartridge, both the filter and the cartridge need to be tossed even if one of them is working fine.
PK Safety has been in the workplace safety business for decades, ready for new developments in an array of industries. We’re proud to provide the highest-rated safety gear and coronavirus PPE. Consult your local, state, federal, or tribal guidelines for changes in COVID policy and requirements. Read our plan for keeping our workers and yours safe during the coronavirus pandemic while providing the service you expect. Our website is always available, and you can contact our safety experts online or by phone at 800.829.9580.