What was the primary use of N95 masks before the pandemic?

Ordinary people worldwide, regardless of their country, occupation, and age, are introduced to some terms or phrases in 2020, the year of pandemic COVID-19. N95 mask is one of those terms that came to attention as a safety measure for COVID-19. We all know that wearing a mask, washing your hands, keeping social distance, etc., along with many other regulations, are the new normal. Now, we are so well acquainted with the term ‘N95’ that we purchase carefully by looking at the manufacturer, which was even a difficult job before this pandemic situation. 

Ever wondered what the primary use of ‘N95’ is? Is it a new thing for the pandemic or an existing one for other purposes. Well, N95 is not an invented product for COVID-19. It was there before used by several workers in other fields. Let’s go back to that time before this pandemic and fall some light on the ‘N95 respirators’. 


What is an N95 Mask?

An N95 mask is a facepiece respirator that complies with the requirements of the United States’ National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). N95 filters at least 95 percent of the contaminants in the air. This specification does not allow the respirator to be oil resistant. N95 is the most common respirator for particulate filtration. This is an example of a mechanical respirator filter that offers protection against air-borne particles but not gases or vapors.

N95 respirators are functionally similar to certain non-U.S. controlled respirators like European Union FFP2 respirators, and China KN95 respirators. Nevertheless, slightly different parameters are used to certify their output, such as checking agent, filter capacity, flow rate, and allowable drop in pressure.

Unlike a respirator, a surgical mask is intended to provide barrier protection against droplets and has no airtight seal. Thus, it does not shield the wearer to the same degree from airborne particles such as virus material.


A Bit of History of N95 Respirators 

The Bureau of Mines and NIOSH developed guidelines for single-use respirators in the 1970s, and 3M developed the first ‘N95 respirator’, which was approved in 1972. It was initially intended for industrial use before the virus-blocking technology was invented by professor Peter Tsai, a faculty at the University of Tennessee. ‘N95 masks’ became a healthcare standard and patented in 1995. First developed antiviral technologies to prevent the spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis. At the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tsai retired by studying N95 mask decontamination to help mitigate COVID-19-related shortages.


Area of Use 

Of building and other industrial employment, most ‘N95 respirators’ are manufactured to protect exposed employees to dust and small particles. These are supervised by NPPTL, the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, many ‘N95 respirators’ are designed for the healthcare environment, in specific, single-use, disposable facemasks used by health care personnel during procedures to prevent patient and health care staff from transmitting micro-organisms, body fluids, and particulate matter. These N95 respirators are FDA, NIOSH, and CDC approved Class II products. 

Medical respirators have a different version that is called an operational respirator. Both are approved by NIOSH and licensed by the Food and Drug Administration as a similar surgical mask. As part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, amendments have been made to the law on liability and certification to enable industrial respirators to be used in healthcare settings in response to respiratory shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires medical professionals to wear ‘N95 respirators’ because they have to perform patient activities with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 positive people. The CDC also recommends using N95 respirators to protect exposed people from inhalation of infectious particles, including Mycobacterium tuberculosis, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), avian influenza, and Ebola.

Originally, ‘N95 respirators’ were built for industrial use in such sectors as mining, building, and painting. It is also used as a protection against engineered nanoparticles.

According to the NIOSH, respirators with filters in the P, N, R, series are suggested for hazardous particulates that surpass the appropriate occupational exposure limit but are below the immediately dangerous to life or health level. The maximum usage concentration of the manufacturer, subject to a reasonable protective classification of the respirator, should also be noted. 

In the absence of oil particles like lubricants, cutting fluids, or glycerin, N series respirators, including the N95 mask, are only efficient. A respirator fitted with a full facepiece, mask or hood is recommended for contaminants that are dangerous to the skin. In firefighting, in an oxygen-deficient environment, or an uncertain environment, they are not sufficient; instead, in such cases, a self-contained respiratory apparatus is recommended. They are not successful against toxic gases or vapors and are recommended to have a cartridge respirator. 

With the rise of this pandemic situation, many new companies started businesses with respirators, masks, sanitizers, and PPE kits and, some of those offer the best deals at a price. The industrial uses were the first thing for which N95 masks came into the market. With some improvisation, it is now used in the healthcare sectors and, it played a crucial role in preventing COVID-19 for many people. Therefore, it is wise to buy those from authentic sellers, especially those in the industry for a long time to get the best item at the right price instead of trusting those who are not aware of its types, usage, and methods to use.

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