John Schwind, Contributor
Throughout most of the pandemic, our most prestigious medical and governmental institutions have advocated social distancing—six feet, at least—and wearing a respirator as the two most reliable practices to protect us from the coronavirus. The former is an issue of behavior. Being alert about our physical surroundings allows some degree of control, and six feet is a measuring standard that doesn’t change.
The latter practice is product-centric. Wear a respirator, especially in the workplace. It might seem axiomatic nearly a year into the pandemic, but a recurring question persists: How can I have confidence that my respirator provides the highest degree of safety?
When followed, this checklist ensures the respirator you choose meets the accepted scientific guidelines for protection from particulate hazards, including dust, bacteria, viruses, mold, industrial particles and smoke particles. It is imperative to follow safety protocols from reliable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH).
A reliable, four-step litmus test should apply to every respirator any institution proffers to its employees. If it passes the checklist, you can wear the respirator with confidence.
The steps are as follows:
Step 1: What’s your number?
N95 respirators and surgical masks are examples of PPE used to protect the wearer from airborne particles and liquid contaminating the face. The CDC, NIOSH and OSHA regulate N95 respirators. By now, most of us want our respirator to have an N95 rating. This is particularly true for medical and factory workers. It can filter out both large and small particles at 0.03 microns, the desired efficiency that NIOSH demands for its coveted rating. The appeal is that it offers two-way protection. The “N” stands for “not resistant to oil,” and the 95 represents its ability to filter at least 95% of particles. Most experts consider the N95 rating the gold standard for respirators.
The CDC has also designated most N95s as “single-use” but has provided interim “reuse” and “extended use” guidelines that include:
- Are usable for up to eight hours
- Are usable for up to five donning and doffing times
- Recognizes that face shields will extend the use of up to five days or more
Step 2: Who’s the Imprimatur?
Carefully examine the packaging and ensure that the NIOSH or the FDA have certified your N95. Both have stringent guidelines that demand rigorous testing that manufacturers must meet before receiving government approval. We are essentially in the Wild West of respirator manufacturing. This warrants ongoing government scrutiny, because anyone can manufacture respirators, and hundreds—possibly thousands—have tried. News stories abound, reporting that some Chinese manufacturers falsely claimed their N95 respirator had met U.S regulations. You can check your respirator against the CDC’s counterfeit and misrepresentation list at https://bit.ly/370SsWu. Searching for a “Made in the USA” brand is a permissible bias, I believe.
Step 3: Does it Fit? There are two questions regarding the respirator’s “fit.” The first is whether you appropriately don and doff the respirator. Legitimate manufacturers will provide a comprehensive manual, and some, like Global Safety First, provide video instruction (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcjCCXBna18&t=1s). The larger question is whether your respirator can pass a fit test.
There are essentially two types of fit testing. A quantitative fit test uses an instrument to measure the respirator’s effectiveness numerically. A qualitative fit test is a pass/fail test that relies on the individual’s sensory (taste or smell) detection of a test agent, such as Saccharin (sweetener) or Bitrex® (bitter) solutions.
Fit testing confirms the fit of any respirator that forms a tight seal on the user’s face before using it in the workplace. This ensures that users are receiving the expected level of protection by minimizing contaminant leakage into the facepiece. The CDC is blunt about the need for a tight-fitting seal. “This all boils down to a simple reality: If the respirator does not form a seal with the face, it cannot provide the expected level of protection.”
When we developed the ReadiMask N95, we were particularly attentive to designing a respirator that would pass any fit test. The ReadiMask, for example, never failed a fit test, if the tester followed appropriate guidelines.
Step 4: Are you in compliance?
Be sure your employer or administrator follows established guidelines. A serious consequence of failing to follow protocols for respirators and other PPE can be legal sanctions. Recently, OSHA levied fines against medical institutions in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey, ranging from $12,000 to more than $25,000. In October 2020, an OSHA press release revealed it had levied 204 citations for coronavirus-related violations. The proposed penalties totaled more than $2.8 million.
Among the legal community, expect more activity in the post-coronavirus era. In one case, a person sued after the employer told them to wear a coffee filter for protection after they ran out of PPE. It is not unreasonable to expect an uptick in litigation for institutions and companies that fail to provide adequate safety products and protocols.
A professionally designed, comfortably fitting respirator that seals tightly and meets government N95 specifications is your first line of defense (along with social distancing) against the coronavirus or any respiratory infection. Just make sure that your respirator is up to the task. IHW
[John Schwind is President of Global Safety First and the co-inventor of the ReadiMask.
For a video of how to wear an N95 respirator, such as the ReadiMask, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcjCCXBna18&t=1s.
To obtain free samples, visit www.ReadiMask.com . ]