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Which Mask for Which Task?

The number of agricultural mask and respirator choices can be overwhelming. How do you know which one to use for what purpose? How do you know you are properly wearing the mask or respirator?

wearing a mask in a grain bin
Respirators
and other face masks are used often in agriculture, and depending on the task, a specific mask is generally required. To know which mask to use, understand what types of masks are available and what letters and numbers on masks mean. Pesticide/chemical labels always specify which mask is needed for the job. Failure to equip yourself with required personal protection equipment (PPE) as stated on the label can be dangerous to health and sometimes illegal. 


Atmosphere-supplying
and Air-purifying Respirators 

The two main types of respirators work in different ways. Atmosphere-supplying respirators supply clean breathable air from a safe source. A common example is a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).  Air purifying respirators (APRs) are more commonly used on farms. APRs remove contaminants from the surrounding air through purifying elements called particulate filters and chemical cartridges/canisters.  


Respirator Elements: Filters and Cartridges/Canisters 

Elements that remove particulates such as dusts, aerosols or sprays are called filters. To remove vapors or gases from the air, a respirator must contain chemical cartridges or canister elements. Cartridges and canisters do not remove particulates from the air, and filters do not remove vapors or gases from the air. You must have the correct specific elements on your mask for the task you are performing.  

N95 Masks and Other Common Disposable Masks  

APRs that contain a cartridge will be either a half mask or full-face mask. Two-strap APRs that cover just the mouth and nose (such as an N95 mask) contain only filters and are considered disposable because none of the parts are replaceable. These masks are NIOSH rated for three levels of oil degradation resistance (N, R and P) and three levels of filter efficiency (95, 99 and 100).  

  • N-series filters are not oil resistant.  

  • R-series filters are oil resistant up to eight hours.  

  • P-series filters are oil proof. 

  • Adding an adjuvant to a tank mix when using pesticides may require using an R or P series mask, as many adjuvants contain oil or act like an oil. Oils may degrade the filter efficiency of N masks and fail to provide any protection 

  • 95 means a filter can remove at least 95% of airborne particles.  

  • 99 means the filter removes at least 99% of airborne particles.  

  • 100 means the filter removes at least 99.97% (essentially 100%) of airborne particles. 


Fit Test 

For a respirator to properly protect you, it needs to fit properly. Nothing must interfere with the seal between the surface of the mask and your face, including facial hair such as beards and stubble. Not all face masks will fit everyone correctly; buying a few different brands or types can help ensure you find a mask that works for you. Also, the respirator must be put on correctly to fit well. Have a medical evaluation to make sure wearing a respirator does not endanger your health. 

If you are in short supply of respirators and do not have a respirator on hand that is specified on the label, always use a respirator that is more protective than what the label requires. Consult the pesticide, chemical or other label to ensure you are using the correct face mask for the task at hand. 

 

Respirator Decision Tree 

Are you keeping yourself safe and meeting legal requirements? 

Follow this respirator decision tree to make sure you’re using the correct respirator appropriately for the job. 
 

Resources 

Worker Protection Standard Respiratory Protection Guide
National Pesticide Applicator Certification Core Manual, Chapter 6, page 97


Video

Rick Schmidt, NDSU Extension agent – Oliver County, demonstrates the many different mask and respirator options, as well as how to properly wear and fit your mask.

This Agricultural Respirator Selection Guide  illustrates the differences between two-strap air purifying respirators, half-mask air purifying respirators and other types of respirator protection. It’s shared with permission from the AgriSafe Network.

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