Respirator Q & A

Four people wearing funny things on their heads as masks

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, our team of PPE specialists are receiving an influx of questions about respiratory protection. For this reason, we’ve decided to answer the most frequently asked questions right here for anyone looking for answers.

Respirator Q & A

What factors should I consider when selecting a respirator?

Respiratory protection products fall under PPE category iii, which means that the products provide protection against irreparable damage/disease and death.

Because of this, training is mandatory for products in this category. The training should cover aspects such as:

  • How to fit your respirator properly
  • How to remove your respirator
  • Using the correct respirator for the application
  • Respirator expiry dates
  • How to clean / dispose of your respirator

The employer is responsible both for selecting an appropriate respirator and for organising the training.


Why is there a shortage of respirators?

We’ve dedicated the following blog to answer this question:

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Which respirators will protect me from COVID-19?

Medical masks and respirators such as N95, FFP2 or equivalent are recommended for and should be reserved for healthcare workers while giving care to patients. Healthcare workers are the most exposed because they are in close contact with people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and their surrounding environment, which are the main routes of transmission.

According to the South African Government, the general public should wear a 3 layer reusable fabric mask.

It is important to note that face masks should be viewed as a supplementary means of protection and cannot guarantee complete protection from all virus and/or other hazardous particles. It is important to follow recognised hygiene rules to protect against viruses.

  1. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.
  2. Use at least a 70% alcohol solution hand sanitiser after touching potentially infected surfaces.
  3. Do not touch your face with unwashed hands.
  4. Cough or sneeze into a tissue or corner of your arm.
  5. Practice social distancing
  6. Adhere to all relevant government regulations.

What is the difference between a surgical mask and a respirator?

Here’s the link to our blog post created specially to answer this question: 

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How does a respirator work?

Particle-filtering respirators provide protection against particles but not against gases or vapours. These masks are usually made entirely of multiple layers of filter material and may be fitted with an exhalation valve.

The various layers all fulfil a different purpose, from improving the look and feel of the mask to ensuring strength, tear resistance and filtration.

One of the most important aspects of comfort for wearers of respirators is breathing resistance, which refers to the resistance that the wearer feels when breathing in and out – the higher the resistance, the harder the wearer’s lungs have to work.

To keep breathing resistance low, the filter material must be air-permeable on one side while still filtering particles on the other. For this reason, the filter material is electrostatically charged. This allows small particles that are actually small enough to pass through the filter material to stick to it.


What is the EN149 standard?

Masks such as surgical masks that are not designed in line with EN149 are not considered personal protective equipment. Respirators that are designed in line with EN149 are capable of filtering out the smallest particles and droplets from the ambient air to provide reliable protection for the wearer.

resistance low, the filter material must be air-permeable on one side while still filtering particles on the other. For this reason, the filter material is electrostatically charged. This allows small particles that are actually small enough to pass through the filter material to stick to it.


What is an exhalation valve?

The exhalation valve opens when the wearer breathes out, significantly reducing breathing resistance and making it more comfortable to wear the mask for an extended period of time. The warm, moist air from the wearer’s lungs is quickly cleared from the mask.

When the wearer breathes in, the valve closes and reseals itself and the wearer breathes via the material surface. The exhaled air is not filtered, but emitted directly into the environment. This means that there is a risk of droplets from the wearer being transmitted into the environment unfiltered.


How do I fit my respirator correctly?

It is imperative that your respirator is fitted properly to ensure that the respirator performs as required or expected.

Here’s the link to our blog post explaining exactly how to fit your respirator properly.

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How long can I wear my respirator for?

Single-use respirators and surgical masks are designed to be worn for a single shift lasting up to eight hours.

If your job involves handling toxic substances, the masks must only be used once, which means that every time the mask is taken off, it must be replaced with a new one (when working with viruses/bacteria or carcinogenic substances, for example). For hygiene reasons, single-use respirators must only be used for a maximum of one day and worn by only one person.


Can a respirator be decontaminated for re-use?

Unfortunately, it is not possible to decontaminate or re-use most respirators.

Most respirators are made from electrostatically charged filter material. Various processes, including radiation and steaming, can destroy this material. The protective function of the mask cannot be guaranteed after exposure to these processes.

For this reason, we strongly advise against any re-use of masks. Most respirators are designed as single-use products.

Fabric face masks on the other hand have been designed to be reusable. These can be washed and decontaminated by methods such as boiling and ironing. It is best to follow the washing instructions of the selected product.


Do respirators have an expiry date?

The filtration effect of single-use masks is achieved through the electrostatic charge applied to the filter material.

As the electrostatic charge will gradually fade over time, most single-use respirators must be used within 36 or 60 months of production (depending on the model).

The expiry date is clearly indicated on each box. The masks should not be used after this date.

Read our blog on expiration dates for more information:

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Does Khulanathi supply respirators and fabric masks?

Yes. Khulanathi is dedicated to keeping employers and employees safe. We have a wide range of respiratory protection which includes respirators and fabric reusable masks.

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, demand for these products has increased substantially and it is imperative that the general public opts for fabric face masks so that there are sufficient respirators available for those on the front lines.