Although it’s an intricate piece of equipment with a number of components — including a facepiece, a breathing tube and a blower that passes contaminated air through a HEPA filter — a powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) depends heavily on something fairly ordinary in order to function well: a battery.

A great deal of attention is focused on the need to clean and disinfect a PAPR’s hood or helmet, the suspension inside the head gear and the protective face shield, but the battery – specifically its storage, care and usage – should also be a high priority for administrators of respiratory protection programs. If the battery is not in proper operating condition, it may not supply the PAPR with a sufficient charge to perform properly, which could place the wearer at risk of personal injury or death.

When it comes to managing the PAPR battery, the manufacturer’s recommendations are a good place to start, but the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) spells out requirements1 for NIOSH-approved PAPRs that will help managers thoroughly understand this vital component. The battery must:

  • Be the one specified by the manufacturer 
  • Be the one specified in the list of components on the NIOSH approval label that is packed with the unit
  • Provide the NIOSH-required air flow rates.
  • Operate the assembly for a minimum of four hours

How to store PAPR batteries

The manufacturer’s recommendations will provide temperature and humidity specifications for storage (which can vary widely among manufacturers, even for the same battery type). In general, it’s important to avoid high temperatures, which can reduce battery capacity during both storage and use and cause the PAPR air flow rate to drop below the required level or for a reduced period of time.

Non-rechargeable batteries should be kept in their sealed packaging until they are used (and disposed of when the expiration date on the packaging is reached).

Make sure a battery is ready for use

A visual inspection of the battery can help determine if it has been damaged or shows evidence of leaking chemicals or bulging.

Depending upon the length of time in storage, rechargeable batteries may need to be conditioned prior to first use. The manufacturer’s instructions will detail how to carry out this procedure. They will also advise you on how to test the PAPR to confirm that it is operating at its proper air flow rate and how to determine that the battery is installed correctly and operating the way it should.

What if the air flow drops quickly during use?

If this occurs, the wearer should immediately leave the contaminated environment area per the procedures in your company’s respiratory protection program. The battery should be replaced in a safe, clean air location. Some batteries have safety features to protect against excessive heat, internal pressure, current charge, or current drain – features which can affect the operation of the PAPR. Being aware of any safety features that may be installed in the battery will help you understand how it could affect the PAPRs’ performance.

How to dispose of the battery

Most batteries contain chemicals that are hazardous to both the environment and health. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to prepare them for disposal, which could include properly discharging the battery and then placing an insulating tape over the battery terminals. Check to see if the manufacturer has a program for the return of spent batteries. It is also important to consult federal, state, or local governmental regulations regarding battery disposal.