Beyond the Products

Respirator masks: Answers to companies’ essential questions

Whether it is due to personal choice or company policy, many are looking to find respirator masks in order to protect themselves and their employees from airborne particles.

Like many others, you probably have a few questions about these face masks: Do they actually work? When do you need to wear them? How long do they last? How do you know if they fit you properly?

This article will provide answers to all of these questions and more. Spruce Industries wants to make sure that all of your questions are answered so that you can best meet the health and safety needs of your business and employees.

Disposable respirators and dust masks

Disposable respirators and dust masks are neither complex nor costly. However, it is important to provide such protective equipment and educate your employees as to why they should wear it.

This personal protective equipment can help purify the air that you breathe and assist in your daily occupational safety. In doing so, these simple products can save you and your employees’ respiratory health—and possibly even your lives.

How often do disposable respirators need to be replaced?

Changing out your disposable respirator after eight hours of wear is typically ideal. However, it is important to note OSHA guidelines that you must replace your face mask if it becomes discolored, damaged, or clogged. Oftentimes you can best tell that it is time to change out your respiratory protection when you experience difficulty breathing through it. 

What optional features are available for disposable respirators?

Respirators are, most simply, coverings for your nose and mouth. However, there are four key feature categories that you should take into consideration when selecting respirators for yourself or your employees. These categories are coverage, durability, filter, and fit. Various makes, models, and styles—with different feature variations—fall within these four categories. 

First, be sure to evaluate what coverage is necessary for your workers’ occupational safety needs. You will need to consider whether the simpler nose and mouth coverage will provide the necessary respiratory protection or if your workers will need full-face coverage for their job. 

Specific product packaging can provide you with all the information you need on differences in durability for various respirator products. You will want to take into consideration what the packaging describes as the best storage practices for the product’s filters, cartridges, and masks. Depending on your occupational environment, some respirator makes or models may have storage requirements more suitable to your workplace.

Respirators can either be disposable or have replaceable filters. To get the most out of the face masks you choose to order, be sure to check the packaging details. You do not want to throw out entire masks if you or your workers could simply be replacing the filters.

Fit may seem like an obvious category of variation across different makes and models of respirators. However, many people underestimate the importance of ensuring that face masks fit properly. It is best for employers to offer their workers some variety when it comes to the sizing of disposable respirators. 

What do dust masks protect against?

Dust masks are effective for low hazard levels. This type of protective equipment is responsible for filtering out dust, fumes, mists, and other basic airborne impurities while you breathe.

This face mask is different from its more advanced counterparts such as the gas mask respirator, powered air-purifying respirator, and N95 respirator. Unlike these respirators, dust masks do not protect against gases, chemicals, or vapors.

Employers must take the time to evaluate the environment their workers are in each day before deciding which protective face covering will best suit their needs. 

Industrial masks and respirators

Health care workers are, undoubtedly, the first in line for needing respiratory protection. They need protection from the infectious particles flowing through their air, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, it is also important for facility managers and contract cleaners to know what respiratory protection they and their workers need.

How do industrial masks and respirators work?

Industrial masks and respirators are neither the only nor the most effective control to stop the spread of the coronavirus or any other airborne respiratory disease pandemic.

Nevertheless, an industrial mask or respirator can help protect against hazards by acting as a filtering facepiece to purify the air you breathe.

The CDC has published a hierarchy of controls to help companies and individuals navigate their exposure to occupational hazards. Here are the control methods that the CDC ranks from most to least effective: 

  • Elimination—physically remove the hazard
  • Substitution—replace the hazard
  • Engineering controls—isolate people from the hazard
  • Administrative controls—change the way people work
  • PPE—protect workers with personal protective equipment

Industrial masks and respirators fall into the PPE category. Face masks are not the only safety measure that employees can take when they face occupational safety hazards related to airborne particulate. That being said, they still are a valid and critical last line of defense. 

Which types of industrial masks and respirators protect the best?

There is quite a variety of industrial masks and respirators. Which one will protect you and your workers best? The answer depends on your occupational environment and what airborne particles you hope to filter out.

N95 masks are the most popular respiratory protection from airborne respiratory diseases. Among this type of mask, the 3M 8511 Respirator Cool Flow Mask routinely gets the highest ratings.

However, as you may have learned via the news or social media, many individuals on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic are experiencing a major shortage of these top-of-the-line products. 

Please take a moment to consider your risk level and settle for a dust mask or cloth face covering if you are able to do so. This will help reserve the supply of certain respirators like N95 masks for health care workers. 

Why should you consider using industrial masks and respirators when cleaning buildings?

Pandemic or not, it is always important for employees working in compromising atmospheres to protect themselves from harmful dust, smoke, mists, fumes, gases, vapors, and sprays. All of these respiratory hazards can lead to major health concerns such as difficulty breathing, disease, and even death. 

Both employers and employees must take the necessary actions to minimize respiratory hazards when cleaning. As an employer, you must supply your employees with the proper respiratory protection equipment. As an employee, you need to voluntarily wear and ensure the proper fit of your face mask. Being unprepared or refusing to wear respiratory protection will put your health and safety at risk. 

N95 respirators and surgical masks

One result of the coronavirus pandemic is that everyone seems to be wearing or at least thinking about wearing a face mask during their daily personal and professional activities.

As suggested above, N95 respirator masks are the most well-known type of personal protection equipment for airborne transmitted diseases. However, the level of protection that these masks offer isn’t necessary for most people.

In fact, surgical masks, which function more as dust masks, may be all the protection that you need for your occupational environment.

What do N95 respirators and surgical masks protect against?

N95 respirators protect the wearer. In contrast, surgical masks protect the nearby environment.

In other words, N95 respirators are striving to protect the wearer from particles in the environment. But surgical masks protect the work environment from any particles that may be released by the wearer. 

When should N95 respirators and surgical masks be changed?

Pandemics lead to shortages. Shortages, in turn, create a need for conservation. Managers in many health care settings, for example, are conserving respirators by having their workers either reuse or extend the use of their respirators and masks.

Fit and function are the qualities everyone needs to be aware of when considering methods of respirator and mask conservation. 

In the health care industry, “reusing” occurs when the wearer uses a respirator or mask while seeing multiple patients but removes and stores it properly between seeing each patient. Each wearer should follow their specific product’s restrictions. But typically reuse should not occur more than five times.

In contrast, “extended use” occurs when you wear the same respirator or mask around multiple patients without taking it off in between. The CDC supports this method of conservation in times of shortage, as long as the people you interact with all have the same diagnosis. 

Regardless of shortage conditions, the maximum time the CDC advises for extended use of N95 masks is eight to twelve hours. Additionally, the CDC does not support reusing respirators for multiple shifts or after eating or going to the restroom. 

When should cleaning staff in health care settings wear an N95 respirator or a surgical mask?

There are different perspectives on who should wear respiratory protection during the various stages of a crisis or pandemic. Additionally, there are different perspectives of what type of respiratory protection people should wear and when they should wear it.

The bottom line, however, is that the individuals at highest risk for exposure to respiratory illness should have priority when it comes to personal protective equipment.

According to the CDC, individuals in health care settings should wear N95 respirators or surgical masks in these situations:

  • For provision of essential surgeries and procedures
  • During care activities where splashes and sprays are anticipated
  • During activities where prolonged face-to-face or close contact with a potentially infectious patient is unavoidable
  • For performing aerosol-generating procedures

Importance of respirator masks

More and more people are wearing respirator protection today due to the coronavirus pandemic. While many agree on the importance of wearing face masks, companies have an important question to consider: How can they best equip their workers with suitable respiratory protection for their environment?

Why should you use a respirator mask when cleaning buildings?

You may not be in a hospital room, face to face with a contagious patient. Even so, wearing a face mask can be critical for your respiratory health.

Airborne particles can come in many forms depending on your occupational environment. Even if you are not on the front lines of fighting a pandemic, you still need, for example, to protect yourself from cleaning product splashes. As such, you won’t be overexaggerating your safety and health needs by using a respirator mask. 

In what kinds of environments should you use respirator masks?

You should wear respiratory protection in all environments where other occupational controls are not sufficient to eliminate any potential atmospheric hazards. 

Again, there is a hierarchy of controls that every work site should use. This is important because respirator masks and other forms of personal protective equipment are often a last defensive guard against contaminated atmospheres. Thankfully, during this time of crisis, many essential and nonessential businesses have risen to the occasion by taking the necessary occupational controls for their industry.

Even outside of occupational settings, however, respiratory protection can be valuable at this point in time due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is valuable in all environments where people who have not been living together interact or breathe the same air. 

What can happen if the selected respirator does not fit a worker properly?

Improper fit can threaten the health of workers trying to protect themselves from airborne particulate. A mask is simply unable to protect you if it does not fit correctly. Employers should perform a twenty-minute fit test to ensure proper fit for each of their employees. Fit tests can be qualitative or quantitative. 

The qualitative fit test uses a pass/fail methodology. This test uses the wearer’s sense of taste and smell to determine whether or not there is leakage. However, this test does not measure the amount of leakage present. 

Alternatively, the quantitative test uses a machine to determine the exact amount of leakage. This test does not rely on the wearer’s senses at all.

Once you know the make, model, style, and size that fits you, you can stick with that mask to best protect your safety and health. 

However, it is critical that you retest your fit at least every twelve months. This is important because dental work, facial scarring, weight fluctuation, and surgeries can alter the fit of masks. 

COVID-19 updates and assistance

During this coronavirus pandemic, be sure to stay up to date on CDC announcements. Recommended protocol on respiratory protection can and will likely continue to change week to week. 

Also, be sure to check out the products that Spruce Industries offers and see how our company can best support your needs during and beyond the pandemic.

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