What Does N95 Respirator Mean?
An N95 respirator is a simple filtering respirator worn over the nose and mouth. Its name refers to the fact that it filters out 95% of very small (0.3 microns) particles from the air, including viruses and bacteria.
N95 respirators are also sometimes referred to as N95 filtering facepiece respirators.
Safeopedia Explains N95 Respirator
N95 masks provide a close facial fit, with the edges forming a seal around the nose and mouth. This ensures that the user does not breathe unfiltered air, so long as the mask is worn correctly.
The filtration material is made of electrostatic non-woven polypropylene fiber. Some N95 masks also have an exhalation valve to reduce resistance when exhaling, allowing the user to breathe more comfortably.
What N95 Means
The N95 designation is an abbreviation that stands for:
- N - Respirator rating letter class N, meaning “non-oil.” This indicates that the mask can be used in an environment where no oil-based particulates are present. This distinguishes it from class R (resistant to oil for 8 hours) and class P (oil-proof) respirators.
- 95 - 95% filtration efficiency.
Identifying Characteristics of an N95 Respirator
There are other types of filtering respirators available, but the N95 designation is government-certified and regulated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
To distinguish them from other types of respirators, N95 masks have the words “NIOSH” and “N95” printed on the front of the facepiece.
Markings on N95s (CDC/NIOSH)
Applications for N95 Respirators
While many people became aware of N95 masks from their prevalent use during the COVID-19 pandemic, these respirators have been required in many industrial and healthcare settings due to their effective filtering capabilities.
Most N95s are used in construction and industrial jobs where the work can generate dust and other small particles. They have also become an important line of defense against exposure to airborne silica.
In healthcare settings, N95s are used as single-use, disposable respiratory protective devices worn during medical procedures. They limit the transfer of microorganisms and bodily fluids between medical personnel and the patients they are treating. N95s used in healthcare are class II devices regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), under 21 CFR 878.4040.
Difference Between N95 and Surgical Masks
N95 masks are sometimes used as an alternative to surgical masks. While both provide respiratory protection, they have different features and should be used accordingly.
N95s offer a close fit, which provides effective particulate filtration. To ensure a good fit, OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard 29 CFR 1910.134 requires the user to perform a respirator fit test before using it in a contaminated environment.
A surgical mask is a disposable, loose-fitting device worn over the mouth and nose. It acts as a physical barrier between the wearer and potential contaminants in the ambient environment. However, since these masks are not sized for individual fit and do not create a seal against the face, they are not effective at filtering out airborne particles. While surgical masks are cleared by the FDA, they are not certified by NIOSH.