You may not work in an environment where you need a N95 Particulate Respirator; however, in the United States, there are an estimated 5 million workers in 1.3 million workplaces that are required to wear them.  Because respirators are recommended by OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard to control occupational diseases caused by breathing air contaminated with gases, vapors, fumes, sprays, mists, sprays, fogs, smokes, and harmful dusts, there are many important things to understand about them.  OSHA requires Fit Testing for all employees that are required to wear light-fitting respirators; workers should be allowed time to learn how to properly put them on and know that they have the proper fit.

A respirator is a Personal Protective Equipment device that is worn on the face and covers at least the mouth and nose.  They protect the worker in two ways, one by removing contaminants from the air- Air Purifying Respirators.  Second, Air Supplying Respirators protect by supplying clean, breathable air from another source.

One of the most commonly used NIOSH-approved respirators is the N95 respirator.  The approved regulation defines the N95 as a filter class that removes at least 95% of airborne particles during “worse case” testing using “most penetrating” sized particles during testing.  Filters meeting such criteria are given a rating of 95.

Here are the different types of respirators:

Filter Class              Description

  • N95, N99, N100:    Filters at least 95%, 99%, 99.97% of airborne particles. Not resistant to oil.
  • R95, R99, R100:    Filters at least 95%, 99%, 99.97% of airborne particles. Somewhat resistant to oil.
  • P95, P99, P100:    Filters at least 95%, 99%, 99.97% of airborne particles. Strongly resistant to oil.
  • HE (High Efficiency Particulate Air):    Filters at least 99.97% of airborne particles. For use on PAPRs only. PAPRs use only HE filters.

Two of the most common styles of respirators are the cup style (preformed type) and flat fold type.  The elastomeric respirators have a molded facepiece, which uses replaceable filtering cartridges.

If an employer has told you that respiratory protection is needed because of inhaling hazards from airborne particles, it is important that you understand the importance of selecting comfortable, well-fitting PPE that you will be wearing 8 to 12 hours per day.  Although they furnish the PPE, it is up to you to be sure that you are compliant and inspect your protective equipment prior to wearing it every day.

In Part II, we will talk about Fit Testing and User Seal Checks.



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