the N95 Evolution in PPE

Respiratory Protection Standard: The N95 Evolution

Respiratory protective equipment plays a pivotal role in safeguarding individuals from hazardous airborne particulates. Although considered as the last stage in the hierarchy of implementable controls to safeguard workers against airborne hazards, respiratory PPE can be the most important due to the challenges of effectively implementing higher levels. 

how N95 evolved

Widely recognized N95 respirators have become the routine respiratory protection tool in many industries. From healthcare professionals to construction workers, N95 respirators have become the go-to PPE across multiple industries. In our blogs, we will delve into the origins of respirators, the evolution of N95 respirators and their current popular usage, the concept of a standard for respiratory protection, and what newer technology now offers.

Origins and Evolution

The story of N95 respirators traces back to the early 20th century when air filtration was conceptualized. However, it was not until the 1970s that the specific term "N95" emerged, introduced by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The "N" signifies non-oil resistance while "95" refers to the respirator's filtration efficiency of at least 95% against airborne particulates.

Initially designed for industrial workers, N95 respirators gained prominence during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), combined with their high filtration efficiency highlighted the importance of N95 respirators in preventing infectious disease transmission.

Current Popular Usage

Today, N95 respirators have widespread usage, particularly in high-risk professions, healthcare settings, and general public use. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for N95 respirators skyrocketed. These respirators are viewed as a crucial line of defense for healthcare workers attending to infected patients, reducing the risk of contracting or spreading the disease verses non-respirator masks and barrier face covers (BFCs).

Furthermore, construction workers, miners, and those in other industrial fields rely on N95 respirators to mitigate exposure to harmful particulates. Their high filtration efficiency makes them a useful tool in reducing the risk of respiratory ailments associated with prolonged exposure to hazardous contaminants.

Face mask respirators are typically the first line of respiratory defense while other conventional respirator types are regarded as clunky, costly, and difficult to use. N95 respirators are successful due to their small, lightweight design, low purchase cost, and their capability to be fit tested to ensure minimal leakage.

In recent years, the use of N95 respirators has extended beyond traditional applications. The general public recognizes their capacity to protect against airborne pollutants, allergens, and even wildfire smoke. As a result, N95 masks have become a common sight in public spaces, evidencing their role in safeguarding public health.

Since their inception, N95 respirators have protected individuals from hazardous airborne particulates. Evolving from industrial use to widespread application in healthcare and public settings, these respirators have become a routine tool in combating infectious diseases and reducing exposure to harmful respirable particulates.

the N95 respirator faced a number of challenges and difficulties

However, even during its earliest days of adoption, the N95 respirator faced a number of challenges and difficulties, especially during its adoption into healthcare settings:

  • Fit Testing and Training: Proper fitting of the N95 respirator is crucial for effective protection against airborne particles. Healthcare workers required training on how to to correctly fit and wear the respirators to ensure a proper seal. This training process was time-consuming and resource-intensive and many individuals could not pass.

  • Comfort and Compliance: N95 respirators were found to be uncomfortable to wear for extended periods, especially in hot and humid environments. Some healthcare workers experienced difficulty breathing or skin irritation while wearing the masks, which could impact compliance with respiratory protection protocols.

  • Misuse: There was risk of misuse and improper handling of N95 respirators, particularly during periods of high demand. There was misinformation about the true effectiveness of N95 masks during actual use versus during a fit testing session, and confusion about when to use them, which could lead to improper use, compromising the safety of healthcare workers.

  • Regulatory Challenges: Ensuring the quality and safety of N95 respirators posed regulatory challenges for manufacturers and government agencies. Regulatory standards for respirators had to be continuously updated and enforced to address emerging concerns and ensure adequate protection for users.

In the next blog, we will examine the more recent past of key events and reactions that both call for and help define a new standard for respiratory protection.



Maxair PPE equipment

For nearly 20 years, MAXAIR Systems is providing creative solutions to meet the needs wherever personal respiratory and contact concerns demand the highest quality of safety and comfort to the user. 

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