This year has highlighted how important it is to protect our respiratory system. While COVID-19 has promoted respirator use by the general public, this has had a negative impact on the industries that already require respirators for their applications. Businesses are now faced with the challenge of sourcing respirators in a time when global demand has strained supplies to their brink. With lead times for some brands reaching up to 6 months, protection simply cannot wait, and employers are left searching for alternative types of respirators in order to protect themselves and remain compliant.
Looking for alternative forms of respiratory protection can be incredibly intimidating for those that have only ever used N95s. With different assigned protection factors, filter efficiency and seemingly higher capital investment, making the switch to another type of respirator is not an easy decision. Through COVID-19, one type of respirator that has gained a lot of attention across industries has been the powered air purifying respirator (PAPR). Although this type of respirator may have seemed excessive for some applications, the current social climate, and a desire to better protect workforces is driving businesses towards the PAPR and here’s why.
How PAPRs work
PAPRs are a loose-fitting, positive pressure respirator. This provides respiratory protection by drawing in ambient air through a battery powered fan. As the air enters the unit, it goes through a filter, which prevents particulates from entering the air supply. The air is then propelled to the users breathing zone allowing them to breathe as they would normally. Because there is air being blown into the head top, there does not need to be a complete seal between the respirator and the user, creating the positive pressure. As opposed to PAPRs, N95s are a negative pressure, tight fitting respirator that operate by creating a tight seal along the users face and ambient air is filtered through the mask material by the wearer’s lungs.
The Benefits of PAPRs
PAPRs first and foremost offer a greater level of respiratory protection over N95s. With an APF of greater than 1000 and the ability to filter up to 99.9999% of particulates down to 0.12 microns (when compared to the 95% efficiency of N95s), these are proven to provide a greater level of protection. Because of this they can be used in a wide range of both industrial and healthcare applications, to prevent serious harm.
Being a loose-fitting respirator means these do not require fit testing which is a significant cost saving to businesses. This also means that the operator is always getting the required respiratory protection even if their operator's physical appearance changes through the growth of facial hair or through weight loss/gain.
Being positive pressure enables the user to breathe as they would normally, therefore pulmonary function testing is not required for employees. For those with underlying respiratory diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, they simply cannot operate using a tight-fitting respirator for both health and compliance reasons. However, by using a PAPR this helps to support their breathing by reducing the effects of fatigue and preventing their symptoms from worsening.
Overall costs can be reduced as loose-fitting respirators can incorporate multiple forms of protection into one headtop, including hearing, eye, and impact protection. The one system approach enables all the safety features to work together, rather than several pieces of PPE competing for space on the user’s head. By incorporating all of these elements it can reduce ongoing consumable costs and users get to experience a greater level of comfort while receiving superior respiratory and personal protection.
The real cost of N95s
A common misconception is that PAPRs are considerably more expensive than N95s and this belief has caused many businesses to put up with inferior respiratory protection for too long. On the surface, a $5 respirator when compared to a $1000 PAPR with a headtop clearly has a significantly higher capital cost. However, the initial N95 cost is not a true representation of its actual cost to a business. These are single use and require both fit testing and pulmonary function testing annually which brings their costs up quickly. Considering that these might be replaced as many as 5 times per day, costing up to $125 a week, over the course of a working year this number can easily reach upwards of $6000 per operator. Even if this were on the lowest end possible of 1 respirator per day, this would figure would still reach near $1200 PA for N95 usage alone.
We have created an N95 vs PAPR calculator so you can see for yourself just how much you could be saving by making the switch to a PAPR. We understand that switching to PAPRs might not be the best option for every business and our calculator will tell you that. But we’ve got a feeling there might be some money to be saved and better protection to be gained from making the switch.