For many years the N95 Disposable Mask Respirators have been the standard in the construction industry as well as many other trades. These became popular because they are inexpensive, one-size fits all, easy to use and were readily available almost anywhere. These respirator masks do provide better protection than a basic “dust mask” or bandanna, which we’ve actually seen on a jobsite.

These masks are regulated by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) which is responsible to test and verify that a manufacturer mask performs at the specific rating of N95, R95, P95, P100, and etc. These are designed to be very easy to understand. The letter means resistance to Oil Aerosols:

  • N – Not Resistant to oil
  • R – Somewhat Resistant to oil
  • P – Strong Resistant to oil.

The number indicated is the % filtration of airborne particulates: 95 = 95%, 100 = 99.97%.

If the disposable N95 you typically use are all Sold Out (likely to be Back Ordered for the next 3-6+ Months even if everything blows over tomorrow) because of Coronavirus COVID-19, what do you do? Well the good news is N95 is considered the basic level of regulated filtration and most everything else NIOSH approved is going to filter equal to N95 or better. The next best option is to look towards the half mask respirators with replaceable filter cartridges.

Half Mask Respirators

Depending on the task you are doing and the materials / chemicals involved, there is a good chance many safety professionals have already made the recommendation for you to switch from disposable respirators to Half Mask Respirators many years ago. When it comes to truly protecting yourself and your work force, the disposable masks leave a lot of room for error and many people have been advocating away from these for daily use.

A half mask respirator provides a better seal, thermal plastic elastomer (TPE) are also more comfortable for daily use and replacement filters that can be specific to different applications. The cost of ownership can actually be very comparable, if not better with a Half-Mask vs disposable masks. These masks have seen an increase in demand as well but typically are still available. If Kits are sold out, check out the Half-Mask without Filters and the Replacement Filters separately, just know these are not universal fit, so you’ll need to stay with the same brand for masks and filters.   

The big complaint we often hear is that these are more “complicated” and “there are different sizes and you need to get fit tested.” All true, but really worth taking a little extra time to ensure you stay healthy. Are they more complicated with some filter options? Yes. But that just provides better protection for the specific application. Sizes on masks are pretty basic and they do a great job of forming to different shapes by design. 90%+ of sales are for medium or large masks, so depending on your stature, there is a high likelihood of selecting the correct option.

Respirator Fit Testing

It is true OSHA requires professional Fit Testing for use of a respirator on you jobsite. There are two types of Fit Testing for respirators, Qualitative Fit Testing (can you smell this test) or Quantitative Fit Testing (with a machine). In Columbus, Ohio, a lot of people use SAFEX as they often have open Fit Testing days. Or your company’s safety professionals can get trained and utilize their own Respirator Fit Testing Kit to do the testing themselves.

Fit testing however is not limited to just Full & Half-Masks (a common misconception) it applies to any respirator, including disposable, used on the job, which requires you to look at a few things namely Respiratory Protection Plan, Medical Clearance and Fit Testing.

Facial Hair & Respirators

Again all Respirators, including N95 disposables, require a good seal to be effective which require no or limited facial hair. While checking out the info on SAFEX website for their Fit Testing, we came across this chart which not only educated us on proper fit testing but we learned a lot about the proper nomenclature or the proper mustache. Take that VAN DYKE to a BALBO or CHEVRON and we can clear you. This is something we’ve never heard on a jobsite but who knows what tomorrow will bring!

Safety PPE

Ohio Power Tool offers a wide range of PPE from respirators, gloves, glasses, hard hats, fall protection and many other supplies specific to the trades we support. If you’ve got any questions feel free to reach out to us 800-242-4424 and we’d be happy to help.