COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a new species of coronavirus that has been our biggest threat this year. For over 10 months we’ve been living a pandemic that has changed the way we all live our lives. It has also severely affected people in the United States and around the world.
Since many people can develop a very severe form of the disease, face masks have been our number one focus to prevent the spread of the virus. But, while less risky public situations can be handled with reusable cloth masks, healthcare settings represent a high risk of exposure to the virus. So, workers in this field need a very specific type of mask: N95 masks.
It was expected that many medical supplies, including the valuable N95 respirators along with other items like surgical masks, KN95 masks, face shields and others, would be in high demand as a result of this situation. But, these masks have been particularly scarce, with production not being able to meet the demand, even with incredible efforts being done by major manufacturers
Needless to say, N95 mask manufacturing facilities have significantly increased their workload, with stories of workers working extensive hours to produce enough of them to protect our healthcare workers. Today, we’ll talk about the working environment and job opportunities that have come for the increased production of N95 masks.
Salary, work hours, and job opportunities for workers of N95 manufacturing facilities
Since the pandemic began, we’ve heard or read stories online about the workers who have been doing extra-long hours for the production of the most necessary medical supplies. Many wonder if these extensive work shifts have been rightly remunerated, and here we bring some examples.
In April, a polypropylene manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania had over 40 employees work 12 hours shifts in a 28-day marathon to make enough raw material to produce N95 masks and other items of personal protective equipment (PPE). These were volunteers who spent 28 days at the Braskem American plant near Philadelphia making the raw material.
The plant set up a live-in rotation with the goal of ensuring health and safety to the essential workers. Of course, added incentives came in the form of increased wages, groceries, and internet access during the time they spent in the production marathon.
This isn’t the only story of gigantic production rates, as it was announced that 3M, an American company known for their 3M N95 masks in popular models like the 3M 8511, 3M 1860, and 3M 8210, has doubled their regular N95 mask production since January. According to their third-quarter report, they experienced an increase of 25% in the revenue for their respirators. This would mean more work for their employees and more monetary remuneration.
Honeywell is another big company with big efforts to increase the production of N95 masks. They opened a completely new line of products in Rhode Island, and the respirators manufactured there go directly to the national emergency stockpile. This line alone produced 500 new jobs, which would help tremendously since the pandemic also caused a lot of unemployment.
Why are these masks so necessary?
These masks are considered the best disposable face masks available, with very high effectiveness when it comes to virus protection. Their antiviral properties have turned them into a crucial part of the medical PPE, with workers needing them to work every day.
As respirators, these masks are also called N95 respirators. These are masks or mask-like devices that protect individuals from the negative effects of inhaling certain particles considered respiratory hazards. These are particles that can damage the airways and lungs when they’re inhaled, so respirators prevent this from happening by filtering them out from the air the person is inhaling.
Since they are equipment used in certain work-settings, they are regulated by an institution known by their acronym NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health). This institution makes recommendations based on science to workplaces inside the USA to help avoid work-related illnesses or injuries.
According to this classification, N95 masks are respirators without oil-resistance and a filtration rate of 95%. This means they can filter out a minimum of 95% of the non-oil based airborne particles the wearer is inhaling. Airborne means that a particle is small enough to travel through the air, and particles with a size of 0.3 microns are considered airborne.
N95 masks can therefore have many different uses, since the types of particles they can filter out are very diverse. For example, they can be used in construction sites or mining sites since they can filter out dust, or factories to filter out smoke. In healthcare settings, they’re useful to filter out viruses, including the flu virus and the SARS-CoV-2.
As we mentioned, NIOSH regulates these respirators, testing them out after they’ve been manufactured to make sure they meet all the requirements for an N95 mask. This approval stamp is the only way to make sure the respirator will work the way it’s supposed to. N95 masks intended to be used as medical equipment must also be regulated and approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
It’s important to do as much as we can to alleviate the shortages of medical supplies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the use of reusable cloth masks in public settings by the general public, which can come in many different sizes, including sizes for kids above the age of 2. These masks can be found for sale very easily, available to buy in bulk or wholesale, or they can also be made at home with easy-to-get materials.