Whether you're sweeping your floor, cutting wood, or even riding an aeroplane, without a dust mask, you may be prone to the inhalation of toxins and viruses. Knowing which dust masks to use in which situations is a key element to keeping you safe.
Dust masks, also known as respirators, are masks that cover your mouth and nose area to protect you from inhaling harmful toxins or viruses.
There are many variations on the theme, but the dust masks can basically be broken down into two categories. There's the plain white mask that goes over your mouth and nose like the ones you see people wearing on home improvement shows. This mask is called a "nuisance mask."
The other type of dust mask is the gas/vapour dust mask. This mask usually comes with an adjustable nose clip, exhaust valves, and canister filtration. It even sometimes comes with goggles to protect your eyes, and is used for more hazardous work.
These masks are broken down into three categories: N, R and P. Type P is oil-proof. Type R is oil- resistant, and Type N shouldn't be used anywhere where there's oil mist. These masks are usually disposable, and are mainly for short-term use. However, some varieties of the nuisance mask come with disposable filters to extend the life of the mask.
Gas/vapour masks are used for more heavy-duty work, or if the environment that you're working in will be extremely polluted. And unlike the nuisance masks, gas/vapour masks can protect against vapours, fine mists, or hazardous gasses. They're seamless when it comes to blocking inhalants, and can be used for long periods of time. These mask types range from simple masks with replaceable canister-type filters to full bodysuits with a separate air supply.
Most jobs around the home will only require a nuisance mask. It can be used for sweeping, cutting wood or basically any standard industrial job, and is mainly for short-term use. Just remember what N, P, and R are for, and be sure to check the label on the mask for its specific coverage.
As far as viruses go, the N95 nuisance mask was approved by the FDA in April 2009 to prevent against the swine flu. You can pick one of these up at your local chemist. If you're dealing with long-term, or extremely hazardous work, you may want to look into getting a canister-type respirator. This would be appropriate when working with asbestos, lead or cadmium.