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Choosing the Best Respirator for your Range Crew

December 7, 2018

Choosing the Best Respirator for your Range Crew


By Jason Smith, NSSF Range Consultant

Respirators are a normal equipment requirement for most indoor shooting range staff. Even with an effective ventilation system, routine tasks such as range housekeeping, filter swaps, lead collection, brass pickup, target retriever maintenance, vacuum cleaner emptying and changing lights can mobilize surface dust into the air and create conditions requiring a respirator.

Staying Safe

The purpose of a respirator is to reduce exposure to airborne lead from whatever level is encountered to a number less than 50 g/m3 eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA). This is the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for airborne lead under the federal OSHA Lead Standard 29 CFR 1910.1025. All shooting ranges firing standard ammunition have lead dust from primers (lead styphnate), lead ejected from barrels and lead released from ejection ports. Lead dust is also created, of course, as a result of bullets striking the range’s backstops and other hard surfaces downrange of the firing line.

During shooting, a properly functioning ventilation system will carry the lead past the firing line and downrange, preventing exposure to shooters, range safety officers and instructors. Therefore, the lead deposited on the floor is the primary cause for routine respirator use during range maintenance.

It’s important to note that the frequency with which range floors are cleaned has a big impact on how much lead is remobilized into the air during chores such as brass pickup and regular maintenance. Downrange, lead dust accumulates very quickly on any surface, and any task such as target carrier maintenance, replacing sacrificial materials on baffles or changing lights can remobilize this lead back into the air, making a respirator necessary. Shoveling or raking rubber bullet traps or salvaging bullets and fragments from steel trap collectors and filter replacements are also high-risk activities usually requiring use of a respirator.

Choosing the best respirator for a given task requires range-specific personal breathing zone (PBZ) samples. Ranges vary significantly by size, cleaning schedules, number of range crew personnel, overall design and volume of shooting, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution — with one exception: Loose-fitting powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) with assigned protection factors (APF) of 1,000.

A Great Solution

Loose-fitting PAPRs with hoods have significant advantages over other types of respirators.

First, they do not require fit testing, and therefore can be used with facial hair. They can also be shared among employees with only cleaning of the units between users. Because of these advantages, these respirators preempt the OSHA requirements of making a wide range of respirators available to ensure employees get a proper fit, as well as the OSHA requirement that tight-fitting respirators be assigned to one employee at a time. Ranges will therefore avoid the cost of employee-specific respirator fit testing, as well as likely reduce the total number of respirators that must be managed.

There are other advantages. Because OSHA regulations state that PAPRs must be provided to employees upon request (more specifically, if an employee must wear a respirator, the protection level offered by the respirator is their choice up to PAPR), then if these respirators are already a part of your maintenance policies and procedures, you’ve then killed two birds with one stone. They can also be used on a much wider range of tasks, effectively covering all potential tasks associated with shooting range lead exposures, and they are much easier for employees to use properly.

A loose-fitting PAPR with helmet or hood can have an APF of up to 1,000, meaning it can protect employees from airborne lead at concentrations up to 50,000 g/m3 (PEL x APF = maximum use concentration (MUC)). Compared to other types of respirators — the MUC for a half-mask air purifying respirator is 500 g/m3, and for full-facepiece air-purifying respirators 2,500 g/m— this is a significant advantage.

The types of tasks that can exceed the MUC for air-purifying respirators include:

  • Brass pickup (or any type of dry sweeping)
  • Air filter replacement
  • Lead collection from steel traps
  • Rubber trap shoveling/raking
  • Target retriever, baffle and light maintenance that have surfaces on which significant lead has accumulated

PEL Exposure vs. Peak Exposure

A challenge for range owners and operators is understanding the difference between the lead standard PEL and those “peak” exposures associated with specific tasks. For example, an eight-hour TWA of 50 with one hour of lead-related exposure = peak airborne level of 400 g/m3. If that same eight-hour TWA had 30 minutes of exposure, the peak level was 800 g/m3, and so on. This is a very important consideration, because a peak of 800 g/m3 excludes the use of a half-face air-purifying respirator (MUC = 500 g/m3), even though the employee has the same eight-hour TWA as the one-hour task exposure.

NSSF will provide assistance to any range needing help with a sampling plan and/or sample interpretation as needed for proper respirator selection, but in light of the advantages offered by loose-fitting PAPRs with an APF of 1000, it should be clear that the challenge of understanding peak exposures are mitigated by them. The highest concentration of airborne lead dust we have ever sampled in a shooting range is 25,000 g/m3. That’s well below the MUC of 50,000 g/m3 for a loose-fitting PAPR with an APF of 1000 — but well above the MUC* for a respirator with an APF of 50 (the next level down).

Respirator Options

By rule, an employee required to wear a respirator must be provided a PAPR on request. While other respirators can be utilized for certain chores, it’s important to understand the limitations of each:

Half-mask filtering facepiece (dust mask) Half-mask filtering facepiece (dust mask)

  • Can only be used on a voluntary basis at airborne lead concentrations below the PEL
  • Must be fit-tested
Half-mask elastomeric (tight-fitting) Half-mask elastomeric (tight-fitting)

    • MUC limited to 500 g/m3
    • Must be fit-tested
      • No facial hair at seal
      • Must have multiple models available to ensure proper fit
  • Cannot be used by employees with skin sensitivity to lead exposure
  • Must be assigned to one employee at a time
  • Subject to seal failure due to improper use
  • Cannot be used if employee requests a PAPR
Full-face elastomeric (tight-fitting) Full-face elastomeric (tight-fitting)

  • MUC limited to 2,500 g/m3
    • Sufficient protection for most routine range tasks
  • Must be fit-tested
    • No facial hair at seal
    • Must have multiple models available to ensure proper fit
  • Must be assigned to one employee at a time
  • Subject to seal failure due to improper use
  • Cannot be used if employee requests a PAPR
Half-face tight-fitting PAPR Half-face tight-fitting PAPR

  • MUC limited to 2,500 g/m3
  • Must be fit-tested
    • No facial hair at seal
    • Must have multiple models available to ensure proper fit
  • Must be assigned to one employee at a time
  • Subject to seal failure due to improper use
  • Cannot be used by employees with skin sensitivity to lead exposure
  • Significantly more expensive than non-powered, full-face tight-fitting air-purifying respirator at same level of protection and more limitations
Full-face elastomeric PAPR (tight-fitting) Full-face elastomeric PAPR (tight-fitting)

  • Cost
  • Must be fit-tested
    • No facial hair at seal
    • Must have multiple models available to ensure proper fit
  • Must be assigned to one employee at a time
  • Subject to seal failure due to improper use
Hooded loose-fitting PAPR with APF of 1000 Hooded loose-fitting PAPR with APF of 1000

  • Cost

The advantages of being able to do away with fit testing for loose-fitting versus tight-fitting respirators are significant. Only one model must be provided, no fit-testing required, facial hair is allowed, and such a respirator protects against all expected airborne lead exposure scenarios at shooting ranges. Ranger operators also need only as many units as there are simultaneously-exposed employees, thus, the higher per-unit purchase cost is mitigated by fewer needed units, there much lower failure rate and their ease of use.

When it comes to OSHA, the biggest advantage of PAPR versus non-PAPR is that there’s no chance of disqualification due to PAPR request. The advantages of full-face vs. half-face are realized with no disqualification due to skin sensitivity and higher protection levels (especially compared to non-powered).

As you might surmise, the purchase costs of PAPRs can be much higher than standard air-purifying respirators. The model we use with an integrated hard hat costs $1,250. However, we have found that the risk of violating the OSHA respirator standard is virtually eliminated, employees are much happier with this unit and total cost of ownership — mantenance, replacement, etc. — is surprisingly close to cheaper models.

Images courtesy of OSHA.

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