Hands On
Safety's Always First

MAY/JUN 2004
Volume 47/Issue 3

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All about Respirators and Dust Masks

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Workshop Safety
All about Respirators and Dust Masks
Printer friendly PDF copy of article (15K)

The problem
Experienced woodworkers know full well that airborne dust can cause respiratory problems. If you've done much woodworking, you've probably experienced some of these problems at one time or another.

Depending on the woods you've worked with (and how long you've been in the shop), these problems could have ranged from a little sneezing now and then - to flu or pneumonia-like symptoms, headaches or conjunctivitis that resulted in a need for serious medical attention.

Of the domestics, walnut, Western red cedar, chestnut, oak, redwood, hemlock, birch, sassafras and willow are among the most common. In addition, exotics such as cocobolo, ebony, satinwood, rosewoods, wenge and mahogany are also known to cause respiratory distress. However, extended exposure to virtually ANY wood dust will eventually lead to problems.

So, how do you protect yourself?
First, capture as much of the dust as possible at its source by using adequate dust collection. Shopsmith's DC-3300 Dust Collector can be attached to virtually every tool set-up and will go a long way toward eliminating most of the dust you create before it becomes airborne.

Next, never work in an enclosed shop without adequate ventilation. Open some windows. Install powerful window fans to carry away airborne dust. Clean up after yourself to eliminate coatings of dust that can accumulate and be re-circulated again and again.

And finally...AND MOST IMPORTANTLY...ALWAYS wear a dust mask or respirator. Yes, it's going to be more uncomfortable than working without one. Yes, it's easy to forget. Yes, you're going to think...“It's just a couple of cuts...and probably won't make any difference.” In short, you're bound to come up with reason-after-reason why wearing a respirator or mask isn't necessary...but you know what? IT'S ALWAYS NECESSARY! ALWAYS!

OSHA regulations offer some guidelines
According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, there are three basic types of respirators. Non-powered air-purifying respirators, powered air-purifying respirators and atmosphere-supplying respirators. Each of the first two are designed to filter-out harmful materials from the air surrounding the wearer...while the final type accomplishes the same task by supplying fresh air from a source other than the air surrounding the operator (such as a tank or airline hook-up).

For the average home woodworker, air-purifying respirators are the most logical solution...both from the standpoint of effectiveness and cost, since atmosphere-supplying respirators are extremely costly and therefore far more appropriate for commercial applications where workers are continuously exposed to high concentrations of contaminants.

Types of contaminants
There are two primary types of contaminants that should concern the home woodworker... airborne particulates and vapors & mists. Let's take a look at each.