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What's a Powered Air Purifying Respirator or PAPR and Do I Need One?

We find that many are unclear about the value or role of a PAPR in a respiratory protection program. In this article, we provide the fundamentals necessary to help you make an informed decision on whether you need to adopt the use of PAPR's.


What Is A PAPR?

The simplest way to understand a PAPR is to compare it to a non-powered air purifying respirator (APR), such as a typical half mask respirator.

PAPR versus APR Respirator

Both a PAPR and a non-powered APR use similar filter cartridges. However, a non-powered air purifying respirator, like the North 770030 shown on the right, requires lung power to draw air through the filter cartridge. A powered air purifying respirator uses a fan to draw air through the filter cartridge.

This difference entails, of course, that the PAPR also has a power source, a fan, a motor, and a charger. There are also some brands that require the use of a breathing tube and a belt. This is not the case with the Gentex Pureflo PAPR's that we offer.

OSHA's definition of a PAPR echoes what we've stated: "Powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) means an air-purifying respirator that uses a blower to force the ambient air through air-purifying elements [a filter cartridge] to the inlet covering [a hood or helmet].


Why Use A PAPR?

The benefits of a PAPR when compared to a non-powered APR are significant. In order to demonstrate these benefits, please see the below chart.

 Pureflo PAPR APR
1 Fan Powered Lung Powered
2 Loose Fitting Options Limited to Tight Fitting
3 No Fit Test Required on Loose Fitting Fit Test Required
4 Cool & Comfortable Hot & Sweaty
5 Positive Pressure Negative Pressure
6 APFs up to 1000 APFs limited to <=50


(1) The PAPR's fan powered operation means much less worker fatigue through the course of a typical work day. This holds true for workers of all abilities.

(2) The fitting options are of crucial importance for many workers. The Gentex Pureflo PAPRs are designated as loose fitting. They are not tight fitting like a non-powered air purifying respirator (APR). This means that a worker can keep a beard and/or wear his or her glasses without any degradation in protection.

(3) The "loose fitting" designation also means that a fit test is not required with our Gentex Pureflo PAPRs. However, a "tight fitting" APR requires a fit test. This means, for example, that a worker can't wear a beard. It would have to be shaved off.

(4) A loose fitting PAPR, in combination with its powered air, means a PAPR is cooler and more comfortable than a non-powered APR. A worker doesn't have to contend with the sweaty conditions created by a rubber or silicone mask.

(5) Most importantly, the PAPR is safer. The fan pushes air into the hood or helmet and creates positive pressure. In positive pressure, contaminants are forced out and prevented from entering. However, a non-powered APR creates negative pressure. This means, if not fitted properly, the user can literally suck contaminants into the mask just by breathing.


Speaking of Safety - Let's Talk APF and PAPRs

(6) Finally, the combination of the powered air and the positive pressure means that the Gentex Pureflo PAPR has an assigned protection factor (APF) of 1000. In stark contrast, a full face non-powered APR has an APF of 50. A half mask (like the picture above) has a remarkably low APF of 10.

What is an assigned protection factor? OSHA defines it for us: "Assigned Protection Factor (APF) means the workplace level of respiratory protection that a respirator or class of respirators is expected to provide to employees when the employer implements a continuing, effective respiratory protection program as specified by 1910.134."

The discrepancy in APFs between PAPRs and non-powered APRs is crucial when determining if your respirator selection provides the correct amount of protection for the hazards you encounter.

Let's look at an example hazard associated with welding - manganese. The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards for manganese illustrates a potential problem for us.

NIOSH Manganese Hazard APF Chart

This chart shows that with manganese, like so many other hazards, the APF required varies based on the concentration of the hazard present. For example, if you have as little as 10 mg/m3 manganese present, you are required to provide an APF of 10. The half mask respirator can do this. But, if you have 500 mg/m3  present, you are required to have an APF of 1000. Neither a half mask or full face APR can offer this level of protection. In such a scenario, you need a PAPR.

The pressing question is this: Do you know if your half mask or full face APRs are offering enough protection for your workers?


Consider a PAPR

Given the many benefits to workers and the increased safety, it might be time for you to use PAPRs. So whether you are in General Industry, Remediation, Welding, Grinding, Powder Coating, Painting, Chemical Handling, Pharma Manufacturing, or even Hazmat, a PAPR might be the right choice for you. Don't hesitate to contact us for help. Put our experience to work for you.

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