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N95 respirators and surgical masks are examples of personal protective equipment that are used to protect the wearer from particles or from liquid contaminating the face. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also regulates N95 respirators. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates entities for compliance with worker safety rules and OSHA standards, including, for example, the proper use of respirators in different work environments.
N: This is a Respirator Rating Letter Class. It stands for “Non-Oil” meaning that if no oil-based particulates are present, then you can use the mask in the work environment. Other mask ratings are R (resistant to oil for 8 hours) and P (oil proof).
95: Masks ending in a 95, have a 95 percent efficiency. Masks ending in a 99 have a 99 percent efficiency. Masks ending in 100 are 99.97 percent efficient and that is the same as a HEPA quality filter.
.3 microns: The masks filter out contaminants like dust, mists, and fumes. The minimum size of .3 microns of particulates and large droplets won’t pass through the barrier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.)
Material: The filtration material on the mask is an electrostatic non-woven polypropylene fiber.
Valve: Some disposable N95 masks come with an optional exhalation valve. “The presence of an exhalation valve reduces exhalation resistance, which makes it easier to breathe (exhale,)” according to the CDC.