Respirator Selection

3M Centre for Respiratory Protection

Selecting Respirators for Your Workplace

Choosing the right respirator is key. No matter how well made your respirator is, it can’t filter out hazards that it’s not designed for. Once you have the results of your exposure assessment, you’re ready to select appropriate protection for your employees.

  • You’ll need to select equipment based on whether your work environment contains a particulate hazard (particles such as hazardous dusts or fibers), a gas or vapour hazard (such as solvent vapours or chlorine gas), or both types of hazards.

    Generally, you protect against particulate hazards with a filter and against gas and vapours with a cartridge. If both types of hazards are present, combination cartridges are an option that can filter out both particles and gas or vapours
  • The exposure assessment should yield employee exposure levels for the substances you tested for. The results are typically measured in parts per million (ppm) or milligrams per cubic meter of air (mg/m3), commonly averaged over an eight-hour work shift.

    Compare your exposure levels to the local workplace exposure standard (WES) set by Safe Work Australia, to determine if action is required. You can often use values set by other groups, such as the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) – if those values are lower than the WES. In any event, make sure both your measured concentrations and the levels to which you are comparing them (such as the WES) use the same units of measure. For instance, both could be expressed in ppm for an eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA). Measurements may also be in the form of 15-minute short-term exposure limits (STEL) or a ceiling limit (C), which is the absolute limit that should never be exceeded at any time by a worker.

    If your employee exposure levels are below the WES, then respirators aren’t legally required, though you may still want to offer respirators for voluntary use. If your levels are above the limit, look to reduce exposures through engineering, or administrative controls. If putting those controls into place is not feasible, choose respiratory protection that help bring exposures down to an acceptable level for workers.
  • Where there is a existing respirator which meets the requirements of AS/NZS 1716 this should be used in the workplace. Where a specific respiratory recommendation is not available from Australian or New Zealand authorities, the use of respiratory protective equipment may be drawn from recognised international authorities or standardisation bodies such National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). AS/NZS 1716 tested respirators have an assigned protection factor (APF), which can range from 10 to 100+.

    The APF is 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 AS/NZS 1715. For instance, an APF of 10 means the respirator can protect against exposure levels that are up to 10 times the WES for that hazard. To see what level of APF your workplace needs, divide your exposure levels by the exposure limit. (This is called the “hazard ratio.”) For instance:

    Contaminant exposure level: 500 ppm ÷ WES (of that exposure contaminant): 50 ppm = APF: 10

    Refer to your local APF information to help select correct respirator/respiratory combination.

  • Once you know your required APF, you can narrow down your choices to those respirators that can reduce exposure to below the WES. AS/NZS 1715 lists APFs for different types of respirators. For example, half-mask respirators with cartridges and filters have an APF of 10.

    Besides choosing equipment appropriate for your workplace’s types and levels of hazards, you must also consider compatibility with other required protective equipment, such as safety glasses and hard hats. Glasses and half face respirators, for example, may compete for space on the same part of the face — the bridge of the nose — so it’s vital to find equipment that fits together without causing either leakage around the respirator edges or loss of eye protection.

    Comfort and ability to do the job are also important considerations; if the work is particularly strenuous, try to select respirators that are as lightweight and streamlined as possible. And keep in mind that people’s faces come in all shapes and sizes; you may need to select from a variety of models and sizes to find properly fitting respirators for all workers who need one.

Respiratory Selection Videos

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Overview of Respiratory Equipment Types

Respirators are classified by the type of hazard they protect against, their APF and the specific substance(s) they’re approved for. There are other ways that you may also commonly see respirators classified as well, such as:


Negative-pressure respirators rely on the wearer to pull air in through cartridges or filter. This has the potential to put a strain on the wearer, which is why medical evaluations are important and recommended.*

*As per section 6, Medical and Physical considerations, AS/NZS 1715

  • Filtering Image
    Filtering Facepiece

    Disposable respirators, also known as filtering facepieces, are used to help protect against some particulate hazards. They’re lightweight and require no maintenance since they’re discarded after use.

  • Reusable Image

    Reusable respirators can be used with particulate filters, gas and vapor cartridges or combination cartridges, which may need to be replaced on a schedule or as needed.

  • Half Face Image

    Half-face respirators cover the lower half of the face, including the nose and mouth.

  • Full Face Image

    Full-face respirators cover the eyes and much of the face, and can sometimes replace the need for safety glasses.

Positive Pressure

Positive-pressure respirators do the work of pushing air to the respirator headtop or facepiece; they can either be powered-air, using a battery-powered blower to pull air through a filter, or supplied-air, bringing clean air through a hose from a source outside of the contaminated work area (refer Appendix A, AS/NZS 1715, requirements for air quality for supplied air respirators).

  • Tight Fit

    Tight-fitting respirators must be fit-tested when use is required, and users must perform seal checks every time a tight fitting negative pressure respirator – a filtering facepiece or half facepiece respirator - is worn.

  • Loose Fit

    Loose-fitting respirators typically have a hood or helmet.

Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)


  • SCBA Image

    Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is classified as a positive pressure supplied air respirator, but is different from all other respiratory equipment in that the user carries the source of the clean air with them in a tank. This type is mainly used for conditions that are unknown or “immediately dangerous to life or health” (IDLH), such as oxygen-deficient atmospheres, when hazards are so concentrated or so toxic they can’t be brought to acceptable levels with other types of respiratory protection, or when you’ve been unable to definitively record the level of hazard in the workplace.

Choose a Cartridge and/or Filter

Understanding the different types of particulate filters and gas and vapour cartridges will help you select the right one.

  • Filter Image

    As per AS/NZS 1715 there are 3 different classes of particulate filters, P1, P2 and P3.

    The negative pressure particulate categories are based facepiece coverage. All particulate filtering facepieces that cover the nose and mouth area only can achieve only a P1 or P2 classification. A P3 classification can ONLY be achieved when worn with a full facepiece. 

    • Class P1 particulate filters are used against mechanically generated particulates e.g. silica and wood dust.
    • Class P2 particulate filters are used for protection against mechanically and thermally generated particulates or both e.g. metal fumes.
    • Class P3 particulate filters are used for protection against highly toxic or highly irritant particulates e.g. beryllium (when worn with a full facepiece).
    • NOTE: certain contaminants may have specific respiratory selection criteria outside this guide e.g. asbestos.
    • Gas and vapour cartridges categories are distinguished by their filter type and class. Refer to AS/NZS 1715 for the complete list of filter types and what they are used for. Some commonly used filter types are:
    • Filter type A = Certain organic vapours (boiling point above 65⁰C) from solvents such as those in paints and thinners (cartridge label colour = brown)
    • Filter type B = Acid gases such as chlorine and hydrogen sulfide (sulphide) (cartridge label colour = grey)
    • Filter type E = Sulfur dioxide (cartridge colour = yellow)
    • Filter type ABE = are suitable for both certain organic vapours/acid gases and sulfur dioxide e.g. solvents, chlorine and sulfur dioxide (cartridge label colour = brown, grey and yellow)
    • Filter type K = ammonia gas (cartridge label colour = green)
    • Filter type ABEK = are suitable for both certain organic vapours/acid gases, sulfur dioxide and ammonia (cartridge label colour = brown, grey, yellow and green)

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  • Learn more about respirators that meet the needs of any work environment. Half or full facepiece reusable respirators help protect against both particles and/or gases and vapours.

  • Learn more about the extensive family of 3M disposable respirators that offer a full range of comfort, convenience and features that help you meet your needs.

  • Learn more about respirators that deliver a comfortable stream of clean air to the wearer either using a battery-powered motor blower (Powered Air Purifying Respirators – PAPR) or from a pressure pump (Supplied Air Respirators – SAR).

See the next step in your journey to optimising your respiratory protection program.