Most people don’t know which one should they use. Do you?
I recently visited a friend of mine; he has a factory and in the production process there are many chemicals and particles involved. He told me a story of what happened to his newer employee that day. During the introduction to his job description, the supervisor showed him his work station and the supplies cabinet; in which they keep all the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).
Ready to go to work he grabbed a paper mask from the cabinet and he was ready to work. Once he start working with all the chemicals he felt short of breath. The supervisor was around and pulled him away from the working area. He then realized the employee was using a dust mask; wrong protection if you are using solvents.
As he was telling me all the details, I felt relief that the employee was save and he was taken to PPE training immediately; which is the reason I was there.
The company of course comply with all OSHA regulations and their goal is to keep employees safe as they do their jobs. They do what is called “hierarchy of controls”
1. Elimination: Phisically eliminating the hazard
2. Substitution: Replace something that is producing hazard with something that doesn’t
3. Engineering controls: The hazard is not eliminated or substituted but isolated from workers
4. Administrative controls: Changes the way people work
5. Personal Protective Equipment: Should be the last resource to control hazard and it’s the least effective way to do it. Includes wearing appropriated equipment in the right way
With all the first 4 point in the hierarchy of controls optimized there is just the last one left; Using the correct equipment in the correct way. In this case we are going to talk about the dust mask and the N95
The regular dust mask is a disposable paper mask with one strap good to use for non regulated materials, for example to take out the trash. On the other hand we have the N95 dust respirators. The N95 has 2 straps they have been tested by NIOSH for OSHA regulations and have a number imprinted on it. When properly used, the N95 respirator will protect against dust and other particles.
For the N95 respirators, the N means that it is not resistant to oil vapors and the 95 means that it’s 95% efficient when filtering particles.
There are other options like the half masks or full masks respirators in which is needed to have a medical exam, training and fitting test.