Choosing The Right Respirator: A Comprehensive Guide to PAPRs and SARs

A man wearing a Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) to purify the ambient air.


When it comes to safeguarding your respiratory health in hazardous environments, choosing the right Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is crucial. While the goals of RPE are broadly the same – to safeguard individual users from the inhalation of dangerous or potentially deadly toxins and contaminants – the level of protection required varies according to several factors: for instance, the type of pollutants, the size/type of the particles and the concentration level of the hazard. Some things are more hazardous than others, and some activities present greater risk than others, even if the hazard is the same!

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Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPRs)

So, how does a PAPR respirator work? PAPRs use filters to purify ambient air, they will ensure the air you breathe is free from contaminants only if the correct filter is used. These respirators are equipped with a battery-powered fan that draws air through the filter, providing a continuous supply of air into a headtop. PAPRs, therefore, are only suitable for environments where the hazard is known so that an appropriate filter can be fitted and for activities which may require the wearer to remain in the hazard area for a longer period of time, 3-4 hours per shift, for example. 

One of the main advantages of PAPRs is their mobility. As self-contained units, they allow for greater freedom of movement than SARs, making them a suitable choice for tasks requiring frequent movement. However, it is important to remember that PAPRs rely on battery power, which may limit their operational time. Regular checks, testing and maintenance, such as replacing batteries and filters, are essential to ensure they remain effective and continue to provide the designed/desired level of protection. Filters, in particular, require regular changing due to the larger, continuous flow of air that passes through them, thanks to the continuously running blower/fan/turbo.

Supplied-Air Respirators (SARs)

On the other hand, SARs are connected to a remote air supply through a long hose, which provides a continuous flow of compressed air. SARs are, therefore, suitable for longer-duration use or for situations in which a reliable and uninterrupted air supply is crucial. The air quality supplied to an SAR system must meet the standards of BS EN 12021 (Breathing Compressed Air Standards) in terms of its quality and quantity, ensuring that it is safe for inhalation. Regular testing and maintenance of the air supply system are imperative to maintain compliance and safety. Knowing and understanding the source of this air supply is critical in ensuring the protection and comfort of the wearer.

The Disadvantages Of PAPRs And SARs

While PAPRs may have a lower initial investment, their maintenance costs, including the recurring expenses for filters and batteries, can mount. Conversely, SARs usually incur higher upfront costs but lower long-term maintenance expenses. The difference in cost structure may be a consideration when choosing the right type of respirator for your needs.

The effectiveness of both PAPRs and SARs depends heavily on their individual system design and proper usage and training. Systems are often modular, meaning different headtops can be connected to turbo units, but this will most likely affect the protection level provided by the RPE system.  It is not the case that SAR will provide a higher level of protection than PAPR or vice versa!

All users should be thoroughly trained in the use and limitations of their Respiratory Protective Equipment. If the system includes a tight-fitting face piece, a mask fit test should also be undertaken (even if the system is SAR or PAPR!). Understanding how to use, maintain, and troubleshoot these devices is essential to ensuring that the required protection is achieved and compliance with safety regulations.

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To learn more about how to choose the right respirator for your needs and what options are available, please get in touch with our team today.

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