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How to Make an N-95 Mask Work for You

May 7th, 2020
N95 mask

Using an N-95 Mask? Here’s how to make it work for you.

The N-95 mask is professional grade equipment intended for the more than 3 million employees in the U.S. who are required to wear respiratory protection. While the general public can make ready use of fabric masks that allow adequate ventilation, the N-95 is intended for professional use.

Still, more and more people are understandably interested in using high-grade protection. This makes sense for those who spend long hours in crowded environments—like supermarket staff or bus drivers.

If you opt for an N-95 face piece, please understand that this is a precision respiration device that requires the user to ensure an airtight seal.

Fit Check Basics

The user of an N-95 needs to ensure the proper fit every time the mask is worn to ensure an adequate seal. This can be conducted using either positive or negative pressure.

To use positive pressure the user gently exhales while blocking the paths for air to exit the face piece. A successful check is when the mask is slightly pressurized before increased pressure causes outward leakage.

To use negative pressure the user sharply inhales while blocking the paths for air to enter the face piece. A successful check is when the mask collapses slightly under the negative pressure that is created with this procedure.

Fit Check While Wearing a Filtering Face Piece Respirator

Not every respirator can be checked using both positive and negative pressure. Refer to the manufacturer’s in­structions for conducting user seal checks on any specific respirator.  

Examples of how to perform these procedures:

Positive Pressure User Fit Check 

Once the respirator is properly donned, place your hands over the mask, covering as much surface area as possible. Exhale gently into the mask. The face fit is considered satisfactory if a slight positive pressure is being built up inside the mask without any evidence of outward leakage of air at the seal.

Examples of such evidence would be the feeling of air movement on your face along the seal of the mask, fogging of your glasses, or a lack of pressure being built up inside the mask. 

If the particulate respirator has an exhalation valve, then performing a positive pressure check may be impossible. In such cases, a negative pressure check should be performed. 

Negative Pressure User Fit Check 

Negative pressure fit checks are typically conducted on respirators that have exhalation valves. To conduct a negative pressure user seal check, cover the filter surface with your hands as much as possible and then inhale. The mask should collapse on your face and you should not feel air passing between your face and the mask. 

IMPORTANT: In the case of either type of fit check, if air leaks around the nose, use both hands to re-adjust the nosepiece by placing your fingertips at the top of the metal nose clip. Slide your fingertips down both sides of the metal strip to more efficiently mold the nose area to the shape of your nose. Readjust the straps along the sides of your head until a proper seal is achieved.

If you cannot achieve a proper seal due to air leakage, you may need to be fit tested for a different model or size. 

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