Do your employees wear N95 respirators at work? These masks are now part of our “new normal,” but it can be difficult to know if they’re reducing the risk of inhaling hazardous airborne particles, including viruses and bacteria.
Take a closer look at our expert N95 respirator-wearing guidance to help determine if your workers are wearing their respirators correctly and receiving the expected level of protection.
N95s offer better protection than surgical masks and cloth face masks. If worn correctly, they filter out at least 95% of large and small airborne particles and droplets (non-oil particles) from the user’s breathing air — hence the name N95. Many industries started using this type of personal protective equipment after the pandemic began.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires annual fit tests before an N95 can be worn in the workplace. This ensures each worker has a properly fitting respirator.
Healthcare workers have long worn N95s respirators, and usually have support available to help ensure a proper fit.
The exact procedure for putting on and taking off a respirator may vary depending on the style and model. Employees should follow these general guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to put on their respirators before performing a user seal check.
Remind employees to clean their hands before touching the N95.
Your workers can perform one of two types of seal tests to check and confirm a proper seal before wearing the respirator in the workplace. Consult the instructions that came with the respirator to decide which test to use.
Advise workers to do the seal check every time they use an N95 and to only perform the seal check with clean hands.
Workers can check their seal by performing the following:
Positive pressure seal check:
Negative pressure seal check:
When employees feel air blowing over their face from inside the respirator, that indicates a problem. Advise them to readjust the seal, then repeat the seal check.
If an issue persists, employees should see a supervisor immediately rather than try to fix it themselves. A different size, model or style of respirator may provide a better fit under the chin and over the nose.
Not every job requires an N95. If your employees wear cloth face masks, they should wear them correctly and safely.
A good cloth face mask will:
Remind employees to wash their hands before putting on the mask, which they shouldn’t touch while they work.
They should handle only the ear loops when taking off the mask and wash their hands immediately after removal.
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