The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, famously known as NIOSH is a federal agency based in the United States that is concerned with researching illnesses and describing appropriate preventive measures for workers to ensure a safe environment for everyone. NIOSH is also part of the CDC, otherwise known as Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention of the Department of Health and Human Services. NIOSH is headquartered in the capital of the country, Washington, and has research laboratories extending over various states.
What is meant by “NIOSH approval”?
If there’s one other word besides “N95” that many of us have encountered during this pandemic is the “NIOSH approved” tag that we got to see right next to the title of an N95 respirator while searching for one. But not many people are aware of what is exactly meant by this phrase—a NIOSH approved respirator means that it has been evaluated meticulously in the laboratory and has been tried and tested to fit all the requirements of the Title 42 of the code of the Federal Regulations’ part 84. In addition to this, the manufacturer’s quality plan is also assessed and is only approved when proven satisfactory.
What happens if a respirator is not approved by NIOSH?
A respirator may only be classified as a “NIOSH approved one” if it is made from the components that are included in the approval label of NIOSH. So if a respirator does not fall under this category and is still marketed as a NIOSH approved respirator, then it’s a counterfeit respirator and is not at all approved by NIOSH. Not only is it illegal to market a non-approved product as an approved one but it also puts the life of its user in peril which is an ethical offense as well. If an N95 is not approved by NIOSH then it is a respirator of sub-par quality that is not reliable and will be unable to provide you 95% protection against airborne particulates which is the main objective of an N95 respirator.
During the pandemic, there have been several cases of supplying counterfeit N95 masks of which some have been caught-like the case which recently occurred at the Care New England hospital in which the famous health system unknowingly purchased a thousand counterfeit N95 respirators. Counterfeit masks look the same way an authentic N95 does, however, there are minor giveaways that could help a person identify whether the N95 has is authentic or not.
What masks are approved by NIOSH?
The respirators that are approved by NIOSH are only a few and are the best of their kind and the most reliable of all masks. Among the NIOSH approved respirators is the typical N95 model which filters out at-least 95% airborne particulates. Another NIOSH approved mask is the surgical N95 which has been specifically created for the medical sector workers as it has been created whilst keeping their needs in mind and caters them accordingly.
The mask is a combination of the functions of a usual N95 mask and a medical mask. This mask is recommendable for all healthcare workers because of its efficiency and innovative functionality. Some other NIOSH approved masks are:
- The N99 offers 99% protection against airborne particulates and is not resistant to oil
- The N100 offering the highest level of protection yet—99.97%
- The RN95 also offers 95% protection and is also somewhat resistant to oil
- The P95 also offers 95% protection and also offers great resistance against oil
- The P99 offers 99% protection and also offers great resistance against oil
- The P100 offers the same level of protection as N100 but is strongly resistant oil
Will we get to see other masks on the “NIOSH approved” list?
The possibility of NIOSH approving other masks other than the ones that have been mentioned above is highly unlikely. NIOSH follows a very strict protocol in regards to the approving of masks that have been prescribed to them by the Federal government. Furthermore, approving a new mask means that the NIOSH will assess the efficiency of that mask and have it tested by its expert and will only approve it if it fits the requirements. This is a very long process that is performed rigorously by NIOSH, therefore a mask will only be able to get the approval of NIOSH if it is worthy and deserving and fits all the requirements that NIOSH demands from a respirator. This is the reason that very few masks have been able to get NIOSH’s approval up-till now and the prospect of NIOSH approving another mask soon also seems very unlikely.
NIOSH is a federal agency that is trusted globally and is a reliable source when it comes to researching an illness providing appropriate data that could help people in taking preventative measures against the disease. NIOSH’s criteria for the approval of respirators and masks are very rigorous and highly selective as well. Therefore, if a mask is approved by NIOSH, like the N95 then there is no room for doubt regarding the efficiency of that mask.
At the moment, only a few handfuls of masks have managed to get the approval of NIOSH because of their selectivity and strict criteria. NIOSH has not added any new mask to their approved list and will only do so if the mask is truly deserving.