Disposable respirators are available in a variety of sizes, shapes, and materials. Respirators are classified according to the type of operation or use. The general classifications are atmosphere-supplying respirators, air-purifying respirators, and a combination of both. The air-purifying group is further divided into three types: gas and vapor; particulate matter such as dust, smoke, and spray; and a combination of gas, vapor, and particulate.


Some occupations require the use of disposable respirators to avoid the inhalation of harmful bacteria, fumes, or other substances. This is common in many types of manufacturing plants. It is vital to wear respirators any time the potential exists to inhale any type of chemical. Paint fumes can become very toxic especially if the ventilation is inadequate. To avoid being overcome with the fumes, always wear a respirator.

The manufacturers of disposable respirators have designs made for comfort as well as protection. Many of the places that require the masks are also hot. Some of these may be in cement mixing, underground mining, metal machining, quarries, and others. The design and comfort is vital for maintaining complete compliance with the requirements. A mask that is lightweight with a comfortable and adjustable nosepiece will be the most likely to stay in use as it is intended.

Guidelines by NIOSH

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a very high standard for disposable respirators before they will be certified as meeting the required criteria. NIOSH will certify three classes of filters. These are the N-, R-, and P- series. There are also three levels of efficiency in each class. These are 95%, 99%, and 99.97%. The tests are done based on very stringent guidelines. Any mask that is certified by NIOSH is top quality.

Some disposable respirators are made with an exhalation valve. This keeps the wearer cooler by reducing the buildup of hot air. The mask should seal easily in order to get the full benefit. Some respirators have time restrictions to achieve the best use from the mask and filter. This is crucial to consider when working in a very toxic environment. If some masks are worn past the time recommended, it may not work as efficiently as it is designed to accomplish.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) has recently brought a lot of attention to the use of disposable respirators. Many people, particularly in Asia and parts of Europe wear the masks to prevent exposure to the disease. Health care workers in contact with SARS patients are best protected by wearing at least an N-95 respirator. There are other health care issues requiring the use of protective masks. Tuberculosis is another highly communicable disease compelling the use of respirators.

More about Disposable Respirators

Two common and potentially harmful inhalants for construction and remodeling workers are mold and fiberglass. Anyone working around these should follow the guidelines for the appropriate disposable respirator. Dust is another substance that should not be inhaled. Workers with masonry, wood, and metal are subject to inhaling the fine dust particles from these elements.

Individuals working in any kind of clinical or chemical research laboratory where there is exposure to diseases or chemicals should always wear a disposable respirator certified by NIOSH. Any time harmful fumes or particles are inhaled there is potential for serious medical problems. Company guidelines for compliance should be strictly enforced to offer the safest work environment possible.