Protection against dangerous vapors, chemicals, dust and biological pathogens
The first patent for a gas mask appeared in 1877, and just over 100 years later, the first known functional gas mask came on the market for the purpose of protecting miners from toxic gases underground.
Gas masks have evolved to a broader range of applications for workplace safety, and to include such modern-day features as:
- varying designs
- complete head protection
- synthetic materials
- integration with a full body suit for overall body protection
- ability to fit under headgear like a hard hat
- electrical communications built right inside the gas mask
Three types of gas masks protect workers from dangerous vapors, chemicals, dust and biological pathogens:
- The chemical cartridge type of gas mask is used when the surrounding air can be cleaned, then breathed. This type is difficult to breathe though as your breathing provides the power to overcome the backpressure from the filters.
- The powered air type uses a fan to draw air through the filters. Breathing is easier, thereby allowing the person to work longer. These use the same type of filtration cartridge as the above, but in order to remain mobile, the wearer must carry the power pack with them.
- A self-contained breathing apparatus is worn by fire fighters to facilitate breathing in an atmosphere where the air cannot be cleaned enough for human usage. This type of gas mask is usually 30 lbs or more, requires training and will last approximately one hour.
Color-coded uses of gas masks
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has regulations for the use of gas masks and has a color-coding system to help you keep track of them.
- White indicates protection against acid gases.
- White with a half-inch green stripe around the bottom of the canister is for use against hydrocyanic acid gases.
- White with a half-inch yellow stripe around bottom of the canister is for use against chlorine gas.
- Black indicates protection against organic vapors.
- Green is for use against ammonia vapors.
- Green with a half-inch white stripe around the bottom of the canister is for use against ammonia gas and ammonia.
- Blue indicates protection against carbon monoxide.
- Yellow is for use against acid gases and organic vapors.
- Yellow with a half-inch blue stripe around the bottom of the canister is for use against hydrocyanic acid gas and chloropicrin vapor.
- Brown is for use against acid gases, organic vapors and ammonia gases.
- Purple (magenta) is for use against radioactive materials, except tritium and noble gases.
- Purple indicates protection against any particulate and an efficiency rating of P100; these would be more aptly described as dust masks
- Orange is for use against any particulate and indicates a rating of P95, P99, R95, R99 or R100.
- Teal is for use only against oil-free particulate and indicates a rating of N95, N99 or N100.
- Olive indicates protection against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear gases and materials.