Are You Fully Protected with Your N95 Mask? 

All tight-fitting respirators require proper fit testing, training and medical qualification annually for all users to ensure that the respirator correctly fits the users face, creates a tight seal, they understand proper donning/doffing, use and disposal and that it will adequately protect them from potential exposure.

With all the threats and the increasing numbers of patients with the recent COVID-19, or Coronavirus outbreak, thousands of people are rushing for protection. Inventory of N95 filtering facepieces are rapidly decreasing and,  in some cases,  completely out of stock. The N95 NIOSH rated facepieces, which are recommended by the CDC for use by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 and to minimize the spread of the virus with infected patients, are also needed by healthcare workers, hospital staff and first responders to ensure that they are fully protected and to minimize the risk from potential disease spread through infected patients coughing, sneezing and other means of contamination.

However, just having the N95 respirator alone will not ensure you are fully protected. In some cases, even with the mask in use, exposure can still occur if you do not have the correct size and type of mask, and if not used properly. Per OSHA 29 CFR 1910.134 Respiratory Protection Standard, and CDC/NIOSH respiratory recommendations, all tight-fitting respirators require proper fit testing, training and medical qualification annually for all users to ensure that the respirator correctly fits the users face, creates a tight seal, they understand proper donning/doffing, use and disposal and that it will adequately protect them from potential exposure. This tight seal minimizes the risk of particulates bypassing the filtering mechanism and coming through the gaps in the seal. 

Respiratory fit testing is done in two ways; qualitative and quantitative fit testing.

  • Qualitative is done by using chemicals such as Bitrex or isoamyl acetate, which is sprayed around a user wearing the mask to see if any chemicals come through the mask and into the users breathing zone. If a user smells or reacts to these chemicals, then you have an improper fit.
  • Quantitative fit testing uses a machine, such as a PortCount®, to measure the concentration of contaminates outside the user’s respirator and within the users breathing zone. It then compares the two readings and the difference gives the fit tester a “fit factor” for the mask. This method is more definitive and accurate than qualitative and typically used for most N95 to P100 filtering facepiece users. Even with the proper mask and fit testing, the mask will not properly fit with any facial hair, make-up or with some facial abnormalities (such as extreme scarring, dentures, etc). Fit testing cannot be done with any of these factors in place since they will affect the results. 

Any healthcare worker, first responder, EMT or at-risk employees and individuals that may need to utilize an N95 filtering facepiece to reduce or eliminate the potential for exposure will need to be properly fit tested to the brand, type, model and size respirator that they will be wearing, and prior to any use. An Arbill EHS Specialist can assist with providing quantitative fit testing services for all your employees that utilize tight fitting respirators. They can also provide effective training in the proper design, use, donning/doffing, inspection and disposal per regulatory requirements. 

Please note: Wearing an N95 mask, while important, is not a solution for the virus. But if you're wearing one, then it must be fit tested. If you have any questions about this or any other workplace safety best practices, please get in touch and speak to one of our safety advisors.