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The effects of wearing respirators on human fine motor, visual, and cognitive performance

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When selecting a respirator, it is important to understand how employees' motor, visual and cognitive abilities are impacted by the personal protective equipment. This study compares dust, powered-air-purifying and full-face, negative-pressure respirators. Thirty participants performed three varied tasks. Each participant performed each task without a respirator and while wearing the three respirator types. The tasks included a hand tool dexterity test, the Motor-Free Visual Perception Test and the Serial Sevens Test to evaluate fine motor, visual and cognitive performance, respectively. The time required for task completion and the errors made were measured. Analysis showed no significant effect due to respirator use on the task completion time. A significant increase was found in the error rate when participants performed the cognitive test wearing the full-face, negative-pressure respirator. Participants had varying respirator preferences. They indicated a potential for full-face, negative-pressure respirators to negatively affect jobs demanding high cognitive skills such as problem solving and decision-making.

Practitioner summary: while respirators are life-saving personal protective equipment (PPE), they can unintentionally reduce human performance, especially if job characteristics are not considered during PPE selection. An experiment was conducted to compare three respirators (dust respirator, powered-air-purifying respirators and full-face respirator) for varying task types. The full-face respirator was found to affect human cognitive performance negatively.
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Keywords: PAPR; cognitive task; dust respirator; fine motor task; full-face; visual task

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Industrial Engineering, College of Engineering and Information Technology, University of Business and Technology, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia 2: Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Rolla, MO, USA 3: Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Rolla, MO, USA

Publication date: May 1, 2013

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