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Recent coronavirus-related PPE shortages have led to organizations sourcing and using whatever respiratory protection they can find. They are encountering a wide range of respirators, including poor-quality and counterfeit versions.
Every workplace may not require NIOSH-approved N95 respirators, but understanding what they are and how they protect wearers is helpful when evaluating the options. N95s and other NIOSH-approved filtering facepieces are sophisticated pieces of filtration technology. They are much more than a simple fabric filter. They provide a level of protection that many seemingly similar disposable masks do not.
So what does an N95 rating mean for a filtering facepiece? The most common ratings for tight-fitting filtering facepieces are “N,” “R,” and “P.” These ratings refer to the type of material used as a filter media for the respirator and that material’s ability to resist aerosolized oils while continuing to provide protection.
The most common N-rated respirators are not resistant to oil-based airborne hazards; they are for filtering solid and non-oil liquid aerosol particles. “R” rated respirators are somewhat resistant to aerosolized oil-based particles. “P” rated respirators are oil-proof. The most commonly used respirators, especially in healthcare settings, are the N-rated variety. The ”R” and “P” rated respirator varieties are most used in industrial settings where oil aerosols are present.
The number “95” represents a respirator’s filtering efficiency at the filter’s most-penetrating particle size. Therefore, an N95 is a respirator that will filter 95% of the most penetrating-sized airborne particles from the air but it is not resistant to oil-based aerosols. Other common filter efficiency ratings besides “95” are “99” and “100” which provide increasingly higher percentages of filtration.
N95 respirators use a combination of filtering technologies depending on their design to filter hazardous airborne hazards. However, to protect workforces from airborne health hazards they must be worn correctly and be properly fitted. Respirator fit testing is required annually by OHSA for any worker required to wear a tight-fitting or filtering facepiece respirator for their job.
Follow the links below to learn how to get the maximum protection possible from N95s for your workforce though respirator fit testing and improved training.