Healthcare Technology Featured Article

January 16, 2023

Reusable N95 Masks and Workplace Hazards

Respiratory protection is of utmost importance in the workplace. Millions of people work in potentially harmful environments that contain harmful dusts, toxic fumes, smokes, fogs, sprays, and so on. These hazards can cause a wide host of problems for workers ranging from lung impairment or diseases such as cancer. In severe cases, death can occur.

Fortunately, deaths and disease from respiratory hazards can be averted or minimized to the barest minimum with proper respiratory protection. Before respiratory protection is discussed in an organization, employers have to take steps to eliminate the hazard or reduce it as much as they can. Only after all these has been done should talk of respiratory protection arise.

When it comes to respiratory protection in the workplace, cloth masks are just going to cut it as they don't form a tight seal against the wearer's face or even protect the wearer against particulate matter or airborne pathogens. And this is where respirators such as the N95 respirator.

N95 respirators provide superior protection as they are capable of protecting the nose and mouth against vapors, gases, and particulate matter. Even the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends respirators as the highest level of protection against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 which resulted in a pandemic that shook the world at its very core.

But there's a slight problem with N95 respirator masks. They are usually designed for single use. In a world riddled with a pandemic and workplaces needing to protect workers more than ever, single-use N95 masks aren't going to cut it. Enter reusable N95 respirators.

The Miracle of N95 Respirators

It's definitely a bit too much to call reusable N95 respirator masks a miracle as they are only slightly different from regular N95 respirators. But that small difference has significant benefits for both individuals and organizations.

The single most important benefit of a reusable N95 mask is cost. Having to replace a respirator after every single use is a frustration for many people. While some people can still manage to afford single-use respirators, it's almost an economic impossibility for many others. The same also applies to various industries.

Due to this, the prospect of reusing a respirator mask is something that's bound to be looked in. This is exactly what happened and the world got what it deserved - reusable n95 respirators.

What To Look Out For In A Reusable N95 Respirator

The qualities to look out for in a reusable respirator are similar to those of single-use respirators. Here they are:

  • Specifically Labeled as 'Reusable'

While you can reuse single-use respirators albeit with the knowledge that their performance may be compromised after the first use, reusable N95 respirators aren't so disadvantaged. They've been specifically engineered to be more durable than their single-use counterparts and to retain their performance when used repeatedly.

So, the first thing to do when shopping for reusable respirators is to find those that are specially labeled as 'reusable'. This is not enough though as the masks are sourced from a reputable manufacturer or supplier.

  • Good Fit

The key to getting the best out of respirators and maximizing respiratory protection is to go for masks that form a snug fit with the wearer's face. However, this can sometimes be a challenge as people are diverse and face sizes can greatly vary. So, one thing is obvious - one mask size can't fit everyone.

Depending on the shape of your face, it may be easy or difficult to find a form-fitting respirator. And sometimes, size choices tend to be limited. Fortunately, some suppliers or manufacturers can provide custom-made masks for individuals and organizations alike.

Employers have to offer multiple respirator sizes to employees to ensure everyone has comfortable and form-fitting masks for optimal respiratory protection.

  • Check for Wear and Tear

Check a respirator's fit and function after getting it. Stretched out straps is the main defect to look out for in new respirator masks. With this out of the way, it's now a matter of checking for wear and tear after each use. The ability of the respirator to protect you remains intact as long as it remains in good condition.

It's advisable you take a sanitation break between every reuse to ensure that pathogens that get trapped inside the mask die off. Most pathogens die off within a few hours, so it may be possible to reuse a respirator almost everyday as long as it remains in good condition. Still, the respirator should be stored in a cool, dry place after every use.

Know When to Let Go

Nothing lasts forever and eventually the time will come when you have to let go of your reusable N95 respirator. In reality, your respirator degrades according to how often you use them. But common signs that it's time for a new respirator are when the respirator is visibly damaged or stained. You should also replace a respirator when it becomes visibly damp.

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