Dust mask safety

Written by wade shaddy
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Dust mask safety
A dust mask is used to filter large particles. (ecologist in mask image by Alexey Klementiev from Fotolia.com)

The dust mask--also known as the “nuisance” mask--is a common fixture in wood shops, auto bodyworks garages, seed and grain warehouses and anywhere airborne dust particles can be detected. Law often requires dust-mask usage when exposure to airborne particles exceeds certain limits. But dust-mask usage goes beyond that. The application of a dust mask is common sense, and it should be applied any time there is the possibility of inhaling particles of any type.


The dust mask is not a respirator and should never be confused with a respirator. A respirator filters organic and chemical vapours through carbon filters. The dust mask filters only large dust particles from the air, and it will not protect the individual from organic- or chemical-based fumes. The dust mask should not be used when painting or working with chemicals. The dust mask is used only to prevent dust from entering the lungs when working in a dusty environment. When you inhale, air passes through the dust mask, trapping dust particles on the surface of the mask.

Correct Usage

The dust mask should be placed over the nose and chin, with the elastic strap stretched behind the neck. There is a small metal band on the bridge of the nose. This metal band is bent with the fingers to conform to the bridge of the individual’s nose to form a seal. The dust mask will never seal completely, but if fitted properly, an appropriate seal will be obtained that will stop most particles from entering the nose or mouth.


Normally, when the individual is working in a dusty environment in the workplace, the law requires a training course before the worker can proceed. But for individuals working at home, there are a few things to consider when fitting a dust mask to prevent a false sense of security. For example, if the individual has facial hair, the dust mask may be ineffective or useless. This can sometimes be remedied by tightening the strap around the neck. In cases of very dense concentrations of dust particles--or highly toxic dust particles--the dust mask would not be adequate. In these cases, a respirator must be used. Never use the dust mask to filter asbestos insulation, ammonia, chlorine or pesticides.


The dust mask comes in a variety of configurations. The simple, light-duty dust mask with one elastic band is the most common. These are good for sanding wood, working around occasional road dust or working on tractors or combines around agricultural dust. For heavier, industrial-workplace dust, a heavy-duty dust mask with two, heavy elasticated bands that go behind the neck is recommended. These masks fit tighter, creating a better seal around the nose and mouth.


A dust mask can be used all day, but if the dust mask begins to have an odour to it, discard it and get another. If the dust mask begins to make breathing difficult, discard it and get another. If the elastic band breaks, or the mask gets a tear, it should be replaced.

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