With cold weather, there are many more workers moving indoors, so this is a good time for employers to check the air quality of their employees’ work environment.  This is also the opportunity for employers to inventory their supply and usage of NIOSH-approved respirators.  It is very important to know the hazardous airborne particles that exist in every workplace. 

In the United States, there are an estimated 5 million workers who are required to wear respirators in 1.3 million workplaces.  More people still die from lung cancer than from any other type of cancer (over 159,000 deaths per year).  Smoking is usually found to be the leading cause of lung cancer; however, workers who wear respirators are better protected from harmful airborne hazards.  Some of these hazards have also been known to contribute to causing cancer, lung impairment, other diseases or even death. 

“Dust Masks” vs. N95 Respirators 

Many people often ask what is the difference between a respirator and a dust mask.  Even though their appearances are similar, NIOSH-approved N95 respirators are very different from dust masks.  Dust masks provide no proven protection against harmful airborne particles.  NIOSH recommends the use of N95 (or better) respirators for most environmental hazards. 

In testing, respirators that collect at least 95% of the challenge aerosol are given a 95 rating.  (99% receive a 99 rating; at least 99.97%, a 100 rating).  The filters for respirators are tested by NIOSH at the time of application and periodically afterward to ensure they continue to meet the certification.  The certification of N95 will be on the respirator, so you know you are getting the right thing. 

It is necessary to perform fit tests to verify there are no defects in the respirators.  Please note:  Caution:
Respirators must be properly selected and fitted to provide protection to the user. It is the responsibility of the user to make the appropriate choice of respirator based on the contaminant, workplace concentrations, and any other site specific conditions. It is also the responsibility of the user to ensure that the workplace is in compliance with all applicable Federal, State, and Local regulations on worker safety, including, but not limited to, OSHA regulations on respiratory protection (29 CFR 1910.134). Read all Warnings and Use Instructions that accompany the respirators. If you have any Technical questions regarding respiratory protection, call the manufacturer.

Dust Masks are loose-fitting filters that fit over the nose and mouth, capturing dust on the outside when the wearer breathes in air.  Respirators have the NIOSH marking on them; therefore, they have met strict criteria and passed independent certification tests established by NIOSH.  Their tests ensure the respirator has been designed to meet minimum filtration requirements as well as specific manufacturing quality levels.  NIOSH does not test or certify dust masks. 

Every worksite has its own level of protection that is required for its specific application.  You see respirators used in all types of settings, from the medical industry to industrial applications.  The NIOSH website ( maintains a database of all NIOSH-approved respirators for user reference. 

Source: Gateway Safety; Texas America Safety Company; OSHA