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A few words on respiratory protection devices and their cost

Respirator safety is a matter of genuinely vital consideration for all woodworking and especially woodturning enthusiasts. Unfortunately, this is a complex subject and much confusion abounds - frequently not helped by misreadings or misunderstandings of sometimes conflicting HSE advice. The real danger is that everyone has an opinion but few have hard facts or robust knowledge!

We have worked hard to offer affordable respiratory protection equipment suitable for protection against the sort of dust hazards that any recreational or home-based professional woodturner might face. The unit that we primarily supply is the JSP PowerCap, produced by Johnson Safety Products (JSP), one of the UK's leading manufacturers of safety equipment.

The technical specifications provided by JSP for the PowerCap form the basis of the information presented on our website and elsewhere. As we are attempting to make a complex subject somewhat more understandable for non-experts, we have drawn comparisons with more broadly parallel specifications with which users may be more familiar. 

In hard technical terms, it is not possible to rate a powered respirator using 'FF' specs. Correctly, powered respirators are classified using the 'TH' specifications. The numerical digits that appear as qualifiers in the two specifications are not congruent. By mentioning that the PowerCap gives a protection equivalent to FFP2, we are attempting to simplify the information for users and make it easier for them to draw parallels between 'conventional' face cup masks (disposables) and powered air filters. The underlying key is the Assigned Protection Factor (APF) and it is this that is being equivalenced because, in all practical terms, it is the key factor.

As in all such things, there is a scale of equipment performance that could be used to describe, in graphical form, the degree of protection a device offers. If we take as one (lower) extreme working without any form of dust protection and at the other (upper) extreme perfect protection, that would give us the complete scale. One needs at this stage to set aside the fact that perfect protection is available only by not working at all, probably not breathing either and certainly not walking down the street: perhaps the closest would be something like a clinical 'clean room'.

Any user must decide where along that scale they wish to set themselves with regard to what they deem 'adequate' safety. It is not a binary decision: we are talking shades of grey here. As you move toward clean room conditions, you spend ever increasing amounts of money and get ever-diminishing returns. In our 'industry', it was the 'norm' until about 10 years ago for folk to work in their workshops without any form of respiratory protection and very limited, if any, dust extraction. In many cases, you will recall this was in fact most frequently 'dust re-circulation', as the filters used in most low-cost extractors were hardly worthy of the name - stopping polystyrene house-bricks was about their limit!

We and others have worked hard to encourage turners and others whom we feel to be at risk to use respiratory protection devices, all while working to improve the standard of dust extraction. We have to face facts and one important fact is that respiratory protection equipment costs money. Many people will not spend money if they can avoid it and for many, that has meant not spending on respiratory protection. For that reason, we have forced down the end-user price of the products, at our own considerable expense, to make them as affordable as we can.

Moulded cup facemasks offer a level of protection and the PowerCap something better, but there are also superior products available, some of which we stock; however, each of these steps pushes one further along the price curve. Should we consign all of the poor folk to die of respiratory disease? Maybe we prohibit the financially challenged from participating in their chosen recreation? Those would seem to be unwise proposals, however tempting they may be to some authorities. The sales of high-performance respiratory protection are minuscule compared to the numbers of people the PowerCap has now protected. That is the vital kernel of truth in all of this - 'Owt's better than nowt' and the better we can make it, the better users will be served. But you undoubtedly get what you pay for.

We are totally happy that the PowerCap provides an acceptable level of protection against dust hazards for most woodturners and is infinitely better than using nothing at all. If we could produce a 5 unit with an APF of 100, that is the one we would recommend. But we have to live in the real world. For dust hazards, the PowerCap provides a decent level of protection since it is, after all, specifically a dust filter.

However, some woodworkers find themselves using MDF. That is an entirely different subject - and a different hazard. The PowerCap will protect against the dust hazard created by working MDF. However, it will not protect against the vapour hazard inherent with machining that gruesome product. It is not primarily the dust from MDF that kills, but instead the urea formaldehyde vapour released when machining it. To protect yourself against that hazard, which is completely independent of the dust hazard, you need a more sophisticated (for which read 'costlier') filtration system such as the JSP JetStream. But that is because of the vapour problems of working MDF - nothing to do with dust.

Using respiratory protection equipment should be considered essential, given our current level of knowledge of the hazards and consequences of not doing so. But it is vitally important to select a protection device that is appropriate to the hazard existing in the workplace. That is why, here at The ToolPost, we are happy to advise our customers on appropriate protection against the hazards of the woodturners' workplace.

Customers and intending purchasers are welcome to call us to discuss any of the issues raised in this piece (above). We are happy to answer your questions directly. If you require advice simply ask - that's all we ask of you.

Editor's Note: The ToolPost (http://www.toolpost.co.uk/index.html) is represented by the search engine advertising and digital marketing specialists Jumping Spider Media. Please direct all press queries to Liz Seyi. Email: liz@jumpingspidermedia.co.uk or call: +44 (0)20 3070 1959 / +34 952 783 637.

1997-2010 P. Hemsley.  The information on this website is the copyright property of Peter Hemsley.  Coeur du Bois and The ToolPost are trading styles of Peter Hemsley.  Whilst reasonable efforts are made to ensure the accuracy of information presented, no liability can be accepted for errors in this information nor for contingencies arising therefrom.  If you are inexperienced in any aspect of woodworking, we would strongly counsel that you take a course of formal instruction before commencing to practice