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3M gathered questions from contractors at the PDCA Show and answered some of the most frequently asked questions on respirators below.

Q: When/why do painters need to wear a respirator?

A: Wearing respiratory protection is one extremely important way to help reduce employee exposures to airborne contaminants, and it’s important to choose the right respirator for the type of exposure. To choose the right respirator you need to know the contaminants and the airborne concentration levels of those contaminants. Correct use of the respirator is also extremely important. Always follow the instructions provided with the respirator, including fit testing.

  • An N95 disposable particulate respirator (e.g., 8210Plus, 8511) may be used to reduce airborne exposure to dust generated while sanding drywall.
  • When sanding/scraping lead-based paint, an N100 (e.g., 8233) high-efficiency particulate respirator provides the minimum level of protection required.
  • A reusable respirator assembly (e.g., 6211, 7512ES) is commonly used for spray painting applications. These reusable respirators provide dual protection – an organic vapor cartridge to filter solvent vapor (odor) and a particulate prefilter to capture mist generated while spraying paint.

Q: Where do our paint crews get fit testing?

A: OSHA requires employers to have a written respiratory protection program in place. The program typically includes medical evaluations and fit testing. Check with your respirator provider to find out what resources are available through manufacturers and other agencies. Some respiratory manufacturers offer services that help you meet OSHA requirements such as online respiratory medical evaluations, product selection tools, instructional tools for conducting training and cartridge service life software to help keep you in compliance.

Q: Where can I find a training video on respiratory protection?

A: OSHA has several respiratory protection training videos available for free on the OSHA website at Many nongovernmental companies and agencies also provide safety training videos that can be evaluated to see if they meet a company’s needs. The website or customer service line of a reputable safety product manufacturer can often be a great source. For example, you might want to check out

Q: What is the right respirator for the right painting job?

A: Selecting the right respirator for the job at hand is very important, but it’s not always easy. It requires knowing the types of airborne hazards in the environment and their concentrations. For assistance on getting started, see NIOSH’s Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards at or the selection guide of a reputable respirator manufacturer, such as

An industrial hygienist can help determine through methods such as sampling the concentrations of the airborne contaminants in the environment. The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) website has a list of industrial hygienists:

Q: Why isn’t there more emphasis on safety awareness for the pro painter?

A: Increasing safety awareness and changing behaviors can be a slow process. Take smoking as an example. In 1964, 42% of the adults in the U.S. smoked; now that number is down to 23%, a nearly 50% reduction … but it took more than 50 years. People do move toward safer practices over time, but they often do it slowly. The workplace safety message has been increased over the past decade, and the industry continues to drive a safety message. It will take time to see a big change, and we all need to be part of the solution by consistently spreading safety messages.

Q: What respirator regulations do painting contractors need to be aware of?

A: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates the use of NIOSH-approved respiratory protection in the workplace. Federal OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134) outlines all the requirements for an OSHA-compliant program including:

  • Exposure assessment
  • A site-specific written plan
  • Respirator selection
  • Medical evaluation
  • Fit testing
  • Training

To make the regulations easy for painting contractors to understand and follow, 3M broke them down into 6 Simple Steps, which can be accessed at

You should also be aware that a state may have its own OSHA program and its requirements may be stricter than those of federal OSHA. To determine whether a program exists for your state, visit OSHA’s website: APC

Andy Schutte is the 3M Safety Marketing Manager.

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