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Save your breath – a filter is not for life but your lungs are

Posted: Thursday 3rd January 2008

43 percent of employees decide to change their filter on the basis of whether it looks old and dirty, or worn.

New research from leading technology company 3M, suggests that the health and safety of employees working with reusable respirators could be being put at risk. This is due to a lack of understanding – both by users and their employers – of the need to regularly change the filters used in the facemasks.

The results showed that the majority of employees wear half or full face masks for less than one hour at a time. 71 percent said they had procedures in place for regularly checking their respirator for signs of wear and tear, and 40 percent of these incorporate checks into other regular procedures – 25 percent use written record cards, and 16 percent mark the respirator to indicate the date it was first used, and so show its age.

In over half of cases, it is the employee who decides when to replace the respirator itself, with just over a quarter of such decisions made by the company health and safety function, and 13 percent made by maintenance personnel.

When it comes to replacing filters, 76 percent of employees decided when to replace filters, compared to 28 percent of decisions made by a supervisor, 25 percent by health and safety, and 18 percent inline with a set company policy - companies had the option to select more than one method, suggesting that checks and balance are in place in many organisation.

However in 43 percent of cases, the decision to change the filter is made on the basis of whether it looks old and dirty, or worn. This method is misleading as filters do not always need changing when they are dirty, some environments mean that the filters will look dirty very quickly but still be performing. This result emphasises the need for training backed by robust health and safety procedures.

In some cases, companies may have inadequate systems in place to ensure that filters are changed regularly, while in other organisations a lack of proper training can leave employees unsure of when a change should be made.

Alan McArthur of 3M’s technical support team said: “The findings of the survey are potentially a cause for real concern. If the decision on when to change a filter in a reusable respirator is left to the employee actually using it, that individual needs the training necessary to make the decision before their safety is compromised.”

To help with this issue, 3M has produced a number of tools including: Filter Selector Wheel, Flowchart Posters to help selection, online filter selector, posters reminding how to detect breakthrough, filter re-order cards, record cards and tick sheets for mask maintenance.

All are available free of charge just by registering at
Tel: 08705 360036

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