With the tragic events currently unfolding across Australia, ordinary everyday Australians are suffering in many ways. We at Absafe would like to express our sorrow and support.
So, firstly we're making a donation for every sale of disposable respirators from our shop website during January. A portion of your purchases will go directly to help the official Bushfire Relief Fund, for Aussies who are directly affected.
What is the smoke hazard?
Aussies who are not directly affected by fire, can still be affected by the smoke, due to inhaling dusts, fine ash, and smoke particles. The Victorian Government* has predicted "very poor to hazardous air quality", and said most people could expect to experience smoke symptoms such as a cough, nose, throat and eye irritation. Similar warnings are in place in some other states and territories also.
In Victoria, you can check your current and predicted air quality at the EPA AirWatch website.
Official government advice is firstly to avoid smoke. You could stay indoors and keep windows, doors, and external vents closed. If necessary and safe, travel to an air-conditioned location such as a shopping mall or government building. If that is not possible or additional protection is required for comfort**, you may consider a respirator. One of the ways we can help is with expert advice and supply of respirators for smoke.
Follow these tips for best results:
P2 Respirator Types:
- You can get disposable one-piece P2 respirators which look similar to paper dust-masks but offer much more protection. They're lightweight, compact, convenient, but in very low availability right now.
- You can get a kit of a re-usable mask (rubber or silicon) with changeable P2 filters. They'll last a lot longer, and are typically more robust against damage, for hard working environments. Plus, you can change filters for protection against different hazards like fumes, paint, pesticides.
- For re-usable masks, you can buy replacement filters, masks, and parts.
DO Use a "P2" filter or respirator/mask:
- P2-rated filters or respirators will filter very fine particles such as bushfire smoke, welding fumes, asbestos.
- The filter-material is tested to remove around 95% of very fine particles (0.3micron size).
- This is an equivalent protection level to the american N95 / R95 rating, but P2 respirators (with AS/NZS1715 standard) are supported by Australian law.
- P3 filters do exist, but don't offer extra protection (over P2) unless used with a full-face mask or powered-respirator system. When used with a half-face mask, you'll still receive P2-level protection.
Remember other potential hazardsA P2 respirator will remove dust/ash particles, but won't protect against:
- CO (carbon monoxide), lack of oxygen, etc (such as in confined spaces)
- poisonous/toxic gases (paint, pesticides, burning-plastic fumes, etc). So if you are painting, spraying, etc you may need extra protection.
- P1 masks are not tested with very fine particles like smoke. They're only for coarse non-toxic particles such as grinding, sand, or liquid-splash (80% of large 1.0micron particles).
- Any mask which doesn't have a Standards rating, gives no guarantee of hazard protection. They're usually designed simply for catching liquid droplets from sneezes and coughs.
- Charcoal filters built into a P2 mask material can remove additional 'nuisance' odours at non-hazardous levels (such as many unpleasant smells)
- It doesn't increase the protection level against smoke and ash
- It won't protect against hazardous gases or lack of oxygen.
Check your fit
For convenience/comfort use (not work or medical conditions**), it's important to know:
- A respirator/mask is only as effective as the fit & seal around the edge
- Look for a close firm fit around edge of the nose and mouth area, with no edge gaps
- A beard or stubble will ruin the fit/seal, and severely reduce the protection level. Clean-shaven is the only way to get a disposable-mask or half-mask to seal properly and provide its full protection.
More information at NSW Health: how to Fit a P2 Mask (for smoke)
Here's what 3M says - they're one of the biggest manufacturers of P2/N95 respirators, and of dust masks:
*(6-Jan-2020, Victoria Chief Health Officer and EPA Chief Environmental Scientist)
**For workplace use, the user should always be professionally fit-tested, and take into account the hazards in the environment such as concentration, extended exposure, etc.
If you have a health issue, follow the advice of your medical practitioner. If you feel uncomfortable or unwell seek medical advice immediately. P2 Masks are not suitable for people with existing breathing difficulties, pregnant women, nor children.