3M Science of Safety Global Podcast

Global Science of Safety Podcast: Respiratory Protection Part 2

This podcast is part two in our series on respiratory protection selection. In this episode, co-hosts Mark Reggers and Laurie Wells along with 3M’s Dr. Nicole Vars McCullough, Vice President of Application Engineering and Regulatory in 3M’s Personal Safety Division, resume their discussion and respiratory protection and selection.

In the first part of the podcast on respiratory selection, Mark, Laurie and Nikki discussed a lot of the fundamentals of selection such as knowing what is in your workplace air, examples of airborne contaminants, and general types and styles of respirators. In this episode, they dive deeper into the different types and styles of respirators and concepts such as fit, comfort, and personal protective equipment (PPE) compatibility.

This global podcast series will hope to not only give you another educational tool that you can use to help increase your knowledge but also something that you can share with others in your organization as well as family and friends. The goal is to help provide a global perspective and foundation for those of you new to workplace health and safety and PPE while also providing information for more experienced professionals and complex health and safety challenges.

You can listen, subscribe to, and share this podcast through Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, Stitcher, and most major podcast apps and platforms.

If you have any questions or topic suggestions, you can get in contact with this podcast by contacting your local 3M office or visit our worker health and safety website. If you’d like assistance in your workplace when it comes to the appropriate selection, use and maintenance of PPE please contact us today.

Around the world, we aim to help everyone get the job done safely today, tomorrow, and in the future.

This year the Personal Safety Division is also celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the first U.S. Government-approved 3M filtering facepiece respirator (a precursor to what is now known as the N95), and the 3M™ E-A-R™ Classic™ Earplug. To all of our customers who have trusted 3M brand PPE between then and now, thank you.

Below is the full transcript of the podcast:

Speaker 1:

The 3M science of safety podcast is a free publication. The information presented in this podcast is general only, should not be relied upon to make specific decisions. Listening to this podcast does not certify proficiency in safety and health. You should always seek the advice of a licensed or certified professional in relation to your specific work or task. Always consult the user instructions for any personal protective equipment you are using and follow local laws and regulations. Information presented is current as of the date of the podcast and requirements can change in the future. 3M owns all rights to the podcast and end reproduction is strictly prohibited without permission.

Laurie Wells:

Welcome back to our previous subscribers and to all our new listeners. The Science of Safety Podcast is presented by the 3M Personal Safety Division. This is a podcast that is curious about the science and systems behind workplace health and safety with a focus on personal protective equipment or PPE used to help keep workers healthy and safe. I am Laurie Wells, one of your co-host and I’m so pleased to be here today with Mark Reggers, from the other side of the world, and we are both occupational health and safety professionals who like to ask questions. Why? How? And please explain. Whether you are a safety professional, occupational or industrial hygienist, or someone with any level of worker health and safety responsibility in your workplace, a user of PPE, or a health and safety nerd like us, this is the podcast for you. So welcome, Mark.

Mark Reggers:

Welcome Laurie, my fellow health and safety nerd. I wear that badge very proudly and I hope you do, too.

Laurie Wells:

Well. I have been known to be called the hair cell ambassador, the guardian of the cochlea, so I’m very happy to be here and excited to learn more today on our Science of Safety Podcast.

Mark Reggers:

I was going to say that sounds like a superhero type of name there. So, we’ll see what we can work with, with that wonderful title there.

Laurie Wells:

Very good. Well, Mark, would you introduce our topic that we’re going to cover today?

Mark Reggers:

Absolutely. Well, this is the second part of our two-part episodes on respiratory protection selection. So, if you haven’t listened to the first part, I really do encourage you to pause right now, go listen to that one and come back and this will make a whole lot more sense as we build upon the information we spoke about before with our wonderful guest, Dr. Nikki Vars McCullough. Welcome back, Nikki. How are you?

Nikki Vars McCullough:

Thanks for having me back, Mark and Laurie, and I have to say I am definitely a respirator nerd, if we’re going down that path. I’ve been studying them for a lot longer than I want to admit, and I have to tell

you it never gets boring. And in the middle of a pandemic, it’s even more exciting than normal. So thanks so much for having me.

Mark Reggers:

For those that may not have listened to my advice to go back and listen to part one, Nikki is the Vice President of Application, Engineering and Regulatory in 3M Personal Safety Division, but please, a little bit more about your background other than the very passionate respirator nerd as you quite aptly describe there.

Nikki Vars McCullough:

Yes, thank you. I’ve been trained in environmental health and safety. I’m a certified industrial hygienist. And here at 3M, I get to work across all countries that we work in, helping people understand how important health and safety is and it’s just really a fun job and I get to work with awesome people like you guys.

Mark Reggers:

So in the first part of the episode, we discussed a lot about the fundamentals of selection, such as knowing what is in your workplace air, what’s in your air, some examples of airborne contaminants and the general types and styles of respirators. But today, I’d like to dive a little bit deeper into the considerations for selection. You know, it’s more than just, all right, the assigned protection factor is a very important part, but there are other considerations that need to be thought about, such as fit, comfort, communication and compatibility with other PPE. So last time you spoke you about these two broad categories of respiratory protection, and one of them being air purifying respirators, can you give us a bit of an overview of air purifying respirators again for our listeners?

Nikki Vars McCullough:

Sure. Air purifying respirators are probably the respirators most people think of when you hear that word, and they work by removing contaminants from the air either when the air goes through a filter or a chemical cartridge. And they can be powered or non-powered.

Nikki Vars McCullough:

So some of the types of examples of respirators in this category are filtering facepiece respirators, half facepiece respirators, full facepiece elastomeric respirators, and also PAPRs, which are powered air purifying respirators.

Nikki Vars McCullough:

I think a lot of us have been hearing the terms N95, KN95, FFP2. Mark, you taught us P2 is the Australian version. Those are all filtering facepiece respirators. And they look like the whole body of the respirator is made out of filter material, and when you breathe through them, the air is filtered. Essentially, those are all similar products, but the designations are different because each country, as we discussed, has its own regulations or each area of the world. So P2 is for Australia, N95 is for the US, FFP2 is for Europe, KN95 meets the China standard. These filtering facepiece respirators or FFRs are non-powered, meaning that you do the work, your lungs do the work.

Nikki Vars McCullough:

We also have powered air purifying respirators or PAPRs. And for those, there’s a motor blower, which does the work. There’s a battery which powers the motor, and typically you’ll see these are bigger units. Somebody is wearing a helmet or a hood over their head. And the motor blower is pulling the air through the filter, it sends it up through a tube and down across your face.

Nikki Vars McCullough:

In the middle of those two are half and full face, reusable, elastomeric respirators. Some people might call them rubber respirators but they’re not made of rubber. They’re fitted with either particulate filters or gas and vapor cartridges or a combination, cartridge and filter. And it’s really important to make sure that if you’ve got a variety of contaminants in the air filters, gases, vapors, that you’re really taking the time to understand what’s in your air and picking the right cartridge or filter for each situation. And we’ve got resources like our Select and Service Life Software, a free online tool, that’s really going to help health and safety professionals out with those tasks of selection.

Mark Reggers:

Most of our listeners, I think, would’ve seen healthcare workers across the world wearing those filtering facepiece respirators, which is that type of air purifying respirator. Now the other type was that atmospheric-supplying or supply-to-air respirators. What type of workplaces where that category of respirator would commonly be used?

Nikki Vars McCullough:

Yeah. Atmosphere-supplying respirators clean the air from another source. So you might have a compressed air or a cylinder. And these types of respirators are used when there’s just too much contaminant in the air to filter it out, or maybe there’s a lack of oxygen. So what most people think of is either an airline, like you might see in a paint spray booth, or what we call a self-contained breathing apparatus. And that’s the type of unit that you might see a firefighter wearing when they have to get really close to the fire.

Laurie Wells:

Hmm. That’s really interesting. Nikki, when would a workplace use an atmosphere supplying respirator? Can you give us some examples?

Nikki Vars McCullough:

Yeah, that’s a great question, Laurie, because I kind of just breezed over it in the last question. So some examples where these atmosphere-supplying respirators are going to be necessary is when you don’t know what’s in the air, maybe you can’t measure it. And so if it’s completely unknown, we want to assume the worst and make sure that we’re supplying our workers with clean air. If there’s an oxygen-deficient environment, you might find this, for example, in a fire or in a confined space.

Nikki Vars McCullough:

If you have levels of contaminants that are so high, that being exposed to them is going to be considered immediately dangerous to life or health, you want to make sure you have an atmosphere-supplying respirator, or if the contaminants in the air just cannot not be filtered out by a cartridge or a filter, and there are some. But there are also other situations where we see people using atmosphere-supplying respirators. For example, if it’s very warm or very cold, there are supplied air options that can heat or cool the air, which really helps increase comfort and productivity.

Laurie Wells:

Hmm. Yeah. You bring up a great point about comfort. I know people are probably more familiar with this, having so many people wearing respirators, but talk a little bit more about comfort when it comes to the worker.

Nikki Vars McCullough:

I mean respiratory protection, like any PPE, is a great control method, but you’ve got to have it on your body, right? You’ve got to be wearing the respirator for it to work. And so comfort is really important. We want to make sure that people are choosing a respirator that’s appropriate for the workplace types and levels of hazards, but also, companies that are really looking for that culture of prevention are going to consider a variety of factors when picking their respirator, and comfort is a really important one.

Nikki Vars McCullough:

Comfort and the ability to do the job while you’re wearing that respirator are really important. Whether you’re in healthcare, whether you’re building a ship, whether you’re doing spray painting, it’s really important to think about everything the worker’s doing and the worker themselves when picking a respirator.

Laurie Wells:

Yeah. Obviously, if it’s not comfortable, people are going to be tempted to take it off or adjust it, which I imagine would affect how well it works if it’s not being worn correctly. Can you describe some of the features that people consider when they’re selecting a product with comfort in mind?

Nikki Vars McCullough:

Yeah, definitely, again, like we talked about doing your exposure assessment and proper selection are the most prioritized things that you need to do, but after that, you really want to think about the work and the worker. And so if you’re in an area where the work is really strenuous, you might look for respirators that are lightweight and streamlined, so they’re less of a physical burden. If it’s really hot in the work area, you might think about supplied air respirators that can cool the air, so the worker feels cooler. We’ve got half and full face elastomeric respirators, those can be made from a variety of materials such as silicone, and you really want to try some out to make sure that it’s the most comfortable, particularly again, if you’re in a really hot humid area.

Nikki Vars McCullough:

And then there’s just simple things that you can do, like user adjustable features, headbands, which allow the wearer more control to make sure they’re getting a fit that’s just comfortable for their particular body. So when you’re thinking about all the different respirators that you can pick and you’ve figured out which one’s going to protect you from the hazards, then I encourage people really to talk to their PPE manufacturer about comfort.

Mark Reggers:

A topic near and dear to my heart when it comes to respiratory protection is fit. How important is fit when selecting respirators?

Nikki Vars McCullough:

Well, for tight fitting respirators, it’s very, very important. When your respirator forms that seal to your face or fits when it fits your face. That means that when you’re breathing or when the air is going through the filters, it’s actually going through the filters and not leaking around the edges.

Nikki Vars McCullough:

So, in the United States and some other countries, fit testing is required by government regulations. Then that makes sure that each individual fits the particular respirator that’s selected for them. So when you’re thinking through, how do I get a respirator that fits a face? You want to find one that’s well sized for the worker’s face.

Nikki Vars McCullough:

As we mentioned, we don’t want to have gaps or leaks around the edge of the respirator. If we have gaps or leaks, the air and the particles just sneak right around those leaks into the breathing zone. If the worker can’t achieve a good seal, if they feel like there’s leaks, then you want to try a different model or a different size until you find one that fits their faces. One of the best ways to get a respirator to fit somebody’s face is actually to follow the user instructions. It’s really important to follow them and to do the user seal check before using the respirator or before doing that fit test.

Mark Reggers:

And that’s the important role that fit testing plays in all workplaces to evaluate that fit and seal. Another big impact or a challenge for workplaces is facial hair. For workplaces that are looking at these types of respirators, what should they consider for those workers with facial hair?

Nikki Vars McCullough:

Yeah, the tight fitting respirators, such as filtering facepiece respirators and half and full face respirators. Those are designed to seal to the respirator’s face. And it’s important that there’s nothing between the edge of the respirator and the skin, and that includes stubble, facial hair, jewelry, scarves. So it’s really important that when you’re fitting that respirator, we communicate to workers that they need to be clean shaven, but also that we’re watching to make sure any facial hair, beards, short beards, long mustaches, aren’t in the way of that seal. Now, if you’ve got a worker that is unable to shave for a variety of reasons, then there are options such as the powered air purifying respirator that we talked about before. As I mentioned, those typically are utilized with a hood or a helmet. So, that’s something to talk about if, again, if you’ve got employees who could use a tight fitting half, full facepiece respirator, but can’t shave, then look at some of those PAPR options with a hood or a helmet.

Laurie Wells:

Well, Nikki, you’ve explained that really well. And I know that fit for hearing protectors is really important and now we also know about how important fit is for respirators. And Mark, I know you’ve had a lot of experience with this as well. Besides fit, Nikki, what other guidance do you have for health and safety managers when it comes to selecting respiratory protection?

Nikki Vars McCullough:

Again, there’s a lot of considerations and we want to make sure that we’re focusing on the exposure assessments and the contaminants and picking the right category of respirator. But after we pick the category of respirator and think about some of the things we talked about, fit comfort, we also want to think about what else the worker might be wearing. A lot of workers, in addition to wearing respiratory

protection are also wearing a hard hat or eyewear or hearing protection. And so we want to make sure that all those different types of PPE, when put on one person together, aren’t interfering with the fit, for example. And we want to make sure that wearing them, they can actually utilize them, for example, if they’re working in an awkward welding position or working at heights, that they aren’t interfering with the job that they’re doing.

Nikki Vars McCullough:

This adds a lot of complexity to selecting PPE because there are so many different types of makes and models, and they’re not always compatible with each other. A really common example of this is safety glasses and half facepiece respirators. When you’re putting them on, they’re both sitting on your nose bridge and you might find that the safety glasses don’t quite fit down well enough to see, or they’re getting fogged by a poor fitter on the nose of the respirator. So it’s important to think about all the different types of equipment the worker needs to wear to safely and effectively do their tasks.

Laurie Wells:

You know, there’s a lot of pieces to put together. And when you consider comfort as well, that’s a lot for someone to manage. Are there any other practical options out there for people?

Nikki Vars McCullough:

Yeah, once you understand all of the different types of PPE that a worker might need to wear, you can look to see if there are products that integrate multiple types of PPE into one system. So for example, powered air purifying respirators, take in mind respiratory protection with other types of protection, such as head protection, eye protection and hearing protection. And innovations in design are giving way to systems that are more compact, longer running, easier to use and maintain, and might be more comfortable.

Nikki Vars McCullough:

We also want to think about communication and I know, Laurie, this is an area that you’re really passionate about. Integrating communications into our other PPE so that workers can communicate without having to have a separate radio or try to hold up a phone is really important.

Laurie Wells:

One last question, Nikki, before we wrap up this episode of the podcast on respiratory selection, are these workplaces required by law to have a respiratory protection program?

Nikki Vars McCullough:

Yeah, we’ve talked about how different countries or areas of the world have different standards and in many countries or areas of the world, it is required by law that respiratory protection be used within a program. And a respiratory protection really is a core part of ensuring that the respirators work properly, that they’re ensuring health and safety in your workplace.

Nikki Vars McCullough:

These programs are typically spelled out but involve proper selection, training for the workers. A lot of them do involve an evaluation of fit. So it’s really important that supervisors, health and safety managers and workers understand the policy and procedures of their national or local respiratory

protection programs, and they’re able to follow those and meet those, so the respirators are doing the job they’re meant to do. It’s also a really good way to make sure we’ve got records of past training, fit testing, so everyone knows what’s needed and when it’s needed.

Mark Reggers:

It’s one of those things I’ve seen in my experience locally here in Australia, where fit testing is of high focus at the moment, understandably, but they don’t appreciate its place in a complete respiratory protection program. All those elements are so critical and vital for that worker to know that they’re going to be able to achieve protection when they do need it. But thank you so much, Nikki, for joining us and sharing your experience and knowledge with all our listeners. Today has been really valuable.

Laurie Wells:

I’m also realizing that a lot of similarities between our different types of PPE and the protective programs that employers are having to provide to keep their workers safe and healthy. So thank you again, Nikki, it’s been really wonderful and I’ve learned a lot and I’m looking forward to another program that we have I know scheduled, on more specifics about fit.

Nikki Vars McCullough:

Thank you so much for having me and I can’t wait to hear your next podcast on fit. So take care. Take care, Laurie, in snowy Colorado and Mark, in what I assume is at least a warmer Australia.

Mark Reggers:

Warmer than Colorado. I’m sure.

Laurie Wells:

Well, one day we’ll be reversed.

Mark Reggers:

Well, thanks for listening everyone. You can listen, subscribe to and share this podcast through Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, wherever you get your podcast from. If you’d like some assistance in your workplace, when it comes to the appropriate selection, use and maintenance of PPE, and of course, including respiratory protection equipment, you can get in contact with your local 3M office or visit our website mmm.com and search for your country. Around the world, we aim to help everyone get the job done safely today, tomorrow, and in the future. Thanks for listening and have a safe day. Stay healthy, Laurie.

Laurie Wells:

Stay safe and sound, Mark.

Mark Reggers:

Thanks everyone. Bye.

Laurie Wells:

Bye-bye.