Respiratory Protection for Asbestos Work

Asbestos is most dangerous when it is airborne, where it is easily drawn into our respiratory system when we breathe. 

The first thing to consider when choosing the right respiratory protective equipment for working with asbestos is whether it is going to give you a good facial seal. If your mask does not have an adequate seal, you’re going to receive very minimal protection from asbestos fibres. Not all respirators are the same, and not just any mask will keep you safe. 

Another important factor to consider is whether the mask offers an adequate APF or Assigned Protection Factor is right for the task. Assigned Protection Factor means the workplace level of respiratory protection that a respirator or class of respirators is expected to provide to the wearer. 

For removal work, how much protection the mask should theoretically give is calculated using the APF of the respiratory protection mask and multiplying it by the New Zealand exposure limit, which is 0.1 f/cm3

Any person working with or around asbestos, and any employers of asbestos workers, must understand what is involved in ensuring respiratory protective gear is used correctly.  

Particle Filters

When working with asbestos, a particulate filter must be used. It is important to ensure that the right filter is being used and not confused with other types of filters such as gas/vapour filters. However, filters can be combined to protect a wearer from both particulates and gasses/vapours at the same time. 

Particulate filters are prefixed with a ‘P’.

There are three levels of particle filters:

P1 – Low efficiency 
P2 – Medium efficiency
P3 – High efficiency 

 

Choosing the right respirator for you or your workers

There is a range of different types of respirators out there. Which one is right for you can depend on how much asbestos you are working with and for how long. These factors greatly increase the risks of negative health effects. 

The most common type of respirators used in New Zealand are known as air-purifying respirators. They filter the air from outside the mask. The following examples are the ones you’re likely to find in New Zealand. 

Note that all approved protection factors mentioned in this article are using the UK measurements. 

Disposable Particle Half-face Masks

APF with P1 filter: 4
APF with P2 filter: 10 

These are generally your paper mask, and often they’re the cheapest option on the shelf at the local hardware store. These masks contain either a P1 or a P2 filter. While a P2 filter is considered adequate in New Zealand’s best practice guidelines, these masks offer very little protection when working with asbestos, as they have no way of having a tight seal around your face. 

Pros & cons
  • Cheap
  • Useful for minor, very low-risk situations
  • Very low level of protection
  • Difficult to get a good facial seal
  • Inadequate for asbestos removal work
Tips
  • Look for a P2 filter
  • Single use only

Fit Test Type: 
QNFT – Qualitative fit test A pass/fail test to assess the adequacy of respirator fit that relies on the individual’s response to the test agent.

Half-Face Masks

APF with P2 filter: 10
APF with P3 filter: 20 

Half-face respirators are a popular choice for those working with low-risk to medium-risk asbestos materials. They provide a better seal around the face and therefore provide greater protection than disposable particle masks. 

Pros & cons
  • Great for low-risk to medium-risk asbestos work, and surveying or sampling
  • disposable filters and ability to use combination filters for protection from particulates and gases
  • Useful investment for those who also work with other contaminants such as dusts and fibres, fumes, mists, gases and vapours and biological hazards
  • Good for non-friable or B Class removal work
  • Inadequate for high-risk friable asbestos removal work such as the removal of sprayed coating, pipe lagging, asbestos insulation board, millboard, or paper backed vinyl
Tips
  • Look for a P3 filter
  • Needs a regular clean to keep it well maintained
  • Check filters regularly and keep a record of when they need replacing. How often depends on the amount and length of use
Fit Testing

QLFT – Quantitative Fit Test an assessment of the adequacy of respirator fit by numerically measuring the amount of leakage into the respirator.

Fit tests should be performed annually for minimal use. However, if the mask is being used regularly then fit testing should match its level of use by the wearer. 

Fit tests should also be repeated whenever the wearer has had any facial changes such as dental work, weight changes or facial scarring.

Full-Face Masks

APF with P3 filter: 40

Full-face respirators are much like the half-mask, however as they enclose the face entirely, they offer a greater level of protection. 

Pros & cons
  • Full face coverage is great for those with glasses, some minimal facial hair or long hair
  • Can easily be taped to coverall hoods and removes the need for additional eye protection
  • Much higher assigned protection factor than half masks, offering higher protection
  • Best option for high-risk friable asbestos removal work such as the removal of sprayed coating, pipe lagging, asbestos insulation board, millboard, or paper backed vinyl
  • Higher price
Tips
  • Look for a P3 filter
  • Needs a regular clean to keep it well maintained
  • Check your filters regularly and keep a record of when they need replacing. How often depends on the amount and length of use
Fit Testing

QLFT – Quantitative Fit Test an assessment of the adequacy of respirator fit by numerically measuring the amount of leakage into the respirator.

Fit tests should be performed annually for minimal use. However, if the mask is being used regularly then fit testing should match its level of use by the wearer. 

Fit tests should also be repeated whenever the wearer has had any facial changes such as dental work, weight changes or facial scarring.

Powered Masks

You can also get battery powered masks that draw air from outside through a filter and blow air inside the mask area. These usually come as full face masks, or hoods.  

How to do a self fit test

Every time you put on your mask, make sure you perform a self-fit test to see if it’s still got a good seal. All you do is cover the filter or filters where the air goes in with a clean hand. If it’s obstructing your ability to breathe inside the mask it’s a good indicator that you’ve got a good seal. 

Note, a self-fit test is not a substitute for a Qualitative or Quantitative fit test. 

Taking care of your Respirator

Respirators need to be maintained regularly. If the mask isn’t cleaned and checked, it could fail to provide adequate protection from asbestos fibres. Masks can also get smelly and mouldy if not disinfected. 

  • Remove filters, cartridges, or canisters. Disassemble face-pieces by removing speaking diaphragms, demand and pressure valve assemblies, hoses, or any other components. Discard or repair any defective parts. (remember, your dirty filter is asbestos waste
  • Wash components in warm water with a mild detergent
  • Rinse components thoroughly in clean, warm running water
  • Disinfect the mask
  • Rinse the mask again in clean, warm running water
    (rinsing the mask well after applying a disinfectant helps keep the mask in good condition and also helps prevent dermatitis)
  • Let it dry before you reassemble it
  • Check everything's where it needs to be and give it a test to see if all the components are working properly
  • Keep it on record

You can often find the manufacturer’s manual online by searching the brand of your respirator. 

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Fibresafe NZ are a fully qualified and accredited asbestos management company based in New Zealand. We pride ourselves on our expertise in asbestos related matters, as well as our quality of service delivery. We aim to help the nation better their understanding of asbestos, and find solutions to sort their asbestos containing materials until they can be removed in a fair and pragmatic approach.

We’re proud to be accredited by IANZ, to the conformance standard ISO/IEC 17020:2012 for surveying & sampling

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