An adequate respiratory protective device should keep the concentration of the pollutant inside the facepiece below the appropriate occupational exposure limit. Filtering respirators will not provide adequate protection if the device fails in an atmosphere which is immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH). It has therefore been suggested that in contaminant concentrations above an IDLH level it is more appropriate to select breathing apparatus with an emergency breathing facility. In this paper IDLH levels published by the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health have been compared with UK occupational exposure limits. For some substances there was a relatively small difference between the IDLH level and the short-term occupational exposure limit (STEL). The median ratio of the IDLH level to the STEL was 10 for gases and vapours and 50 for aerosols. For almost half the substances with UK occupational exposure limits there is no IDLH value. It is concluded that the published IDLH concentrations are, on their own, an insufficient basis for selecting breathing apparatus over a filtering respirator. It is equally important to consider the likelihood that a filtering device may fail catastrophically since this determines the risk from wearing a respirator in an IDLH atmosphere. More emphasis should be placed on the control of potentially high exposure levels by means other than respiratory protection.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
- Health Professions(all)