Many CUPE members work in occupations that put them at risk of exposure to respiratory hazards. 

These hazards include oxygen-deficient atmospheres, airborne contaminants (including mists, fumes, dusts, or other gasses that may be toxic), or biological contaminants that may harbour infectious diseases. Workplaces that include confined spaces may expose workers to a number of these respiratory hazards at once.

When it comes to controlling these hazards, removing hazards is always better than policies, procedures and protective equipment to mitigate them. The best solution is to control them with permanently engineered solutions, including mechanical ventilation or isolation. Personal protective measures should only be used as a last resort, where the hazard cannot be removed. This approach is called the “hierarchy of controls.”

Where there are respiratory hazards at the worksite, employers must develop and implement a written respiratory protection plan. Employers must also provide adequate employee training, including respiratory hazards identification, proper respirator selection and use, and emergency procedures.

Types of respiratory protection

There are a number of respiratory protection products on the market. They do not all offer the same level of protection.


Facemasks are not respirators. A facemask is a loose-fitting, disposable (usually single use) device that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the person wearing the mask and potential contaminants in the immediate environment. When worn properly, a facemask is only meant to help block large-particle dust or droplets (splashes, sprays or splatter) from reaching your mouth and nose. Facemasks do not provide complete protection from viruses or bacteria and other airborne contaminants because of the loose fit between the surface of the facemask and your face.


The two main types of respirators are supplied-air respirators (SARs) which provide fresh air from a tank or external source, and air-purifying respirators (APRs) which rely on filters to clean the air before it enters your lungs. They come in different sizes and styles, covering either just the nose and mouth, or the lower half of the face, or the entire face including a shield for the eyes. There are further classifications depending on the work environment and the type of hazards present in the air. Some respirators can be fitted with additional filters that will remove different types of vapours, as well as particulates. The selection of the type of respiratory protection will depend on the hazards present in the work environment.

Read the new CUPE fact sheet on respiratory protection. It reviews the different types of respirators and provides some guidance on the diverse choices available to keep workers safe on the job. Find it at