I don’t hate all N95 respirators (paper dust masks rated by NIOSH), but they are used wrong very often in construction. And, if you agree, and need another reason to hate them,… guess what??

Now there are FAKE ones! Yes, people have actually copied the crappy dust masks and made even crappier ones.

The fake ones are easy to tell…if you can read the misspelling of NIOSH.  (NIOSH notice here)


Question: During mixing of portland cement bags of material (or similar types), am I overexposed?

Maybe, likely. But, probably not to silica. Most manmade, off the shelf products do not contain free-silica, or respirable fraction of the dangerous parts of silica. However, there is overexposure to respirable and total dust. But, be forewarned, if the product has rocks in the material, these may contain silica and if you cut the cured product- you can release respirable silica.

So, best practice is to:

  • Use a product without silica (look for the warning on the SDS/MSDS, or bag)
  • Eliminate any visible dust by water control methods (misting) or use local exhaust ventilation
  • Don’t be dumb; stay upwind. Or, at least do the mixing away from others
  • Wear a respirator

mixing cement

**You really do not know which respirator to wear unless you have performed airborne exposure monitoring**

The latest push from NIOSH is ridiculous, in a bad way. It’s titled, “Recognizing N95 Day” on September 5. I’ve written about these types of respirators before.

Let’s start with:n95 box

  • NIOSH estimates 20 million workers exposed to airborne health risks
  • N95 (s) are the most commonly used respirator
  • NIOSH certifies all respirators. And, OSHA requires all respirators to be certified by NIOSH
  • All certified respirators must have an “assigned protection factor”, which is a level of protection they are able to achieve
  • N95 respirators are certified to provide a protection factor of “up to” 5 times the exposure limit

For the record, I am not disputing how NIOSH certifies respirators, or if these respirators can achieve a protection factor of 5 (5x the exposure limit). I will also add that in the healthcare setting (hospitals) these might have a useful role.

Here’s the problem:

  • If you need a respirator, you would NOT choose a N95. They are terrible fitting.
    • To put it another way: if you had to work in an environment which had a dangerous airborne hazard, would you CHOOSE this respirator?
    • Or another way: “There is a chance this N95 respirator might protect you, wear this just in case”. (?)
  • If you have fit tested these types, you know they are hard to fit, and at best, mediocre in their protection. At times it is hard to fit test a tight fitting 1/2 face respirator on someone who is clean shaven.
  • N95 respirators are handed out (like candy) at construction sites for any task which “may be hazardous”.
  • Let’s be honest:
    • these are “comfort” masks. AKA:  peace of mind, not for protection.
    • these are cheap. That is why most employers buy them.
  • And, let’s mention:
    • exposure levels can vary (have you measured the worst case scenario?)
    • change out schedule? Do your workers wear the same respirators every day? Do they change them when they start getting hard to breathe?
    • facial hair (no one who is on a jobsite has this, right?)
    • there are knock-off N95 respirators which actually aren’t certified (they’re fake)

In this instance I wish NIOSH would spend money on training people to use the correct type of respirator. Or, how to adequately measure the hazards found at various sites.

As a quick review. If you need to wear a respirator, here are the proper steps.

n95 box2

There are only a few instances when you are not required to perform fit testing. The main reason not to perform fit testing is if the employees are wearing a respirator voluntary. (meaning: it’s not required)

So, how do you know if it’s required? It’s required when:

  • You have overexposures to a substance (it’s required by OSHA to wear a respirator- so make sure you know, perform air monitoring), or
  • If everyone is wearing a respirator during this task (it’s probably also required, just not formally- ie. spray finishing, or my favorite sanding drywall dust) or,
  • If your company policy requires them to be worn (management says: it’s required to wearing a respirator during this task).

So, if you choose voluntary to wear a respirator and there is NOT a policy, or law, that says you HAVE to wear one then, you don’t need fit testing. (but you do need a few other things, Appendix D, etc.)

There is only one other exception:loose fitting respirator

  • loose fitting hooded /helmet atmosphere supply respirators (when used in areas not immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH))

Some employers choose to use these types of respirators because:

  • the employee wears a beard
  • it is convenient to use
  • offers eye/face/neck protection
  • it offers a greater protection factor
  • it’s easier to don/doff (take on/off)

These guidelines for fit testing are different than medial testing before wearing a respirator, as spoken about here.

helmet respirator

There is a lot of confusion about N95 paper dust masks. And, it is confusing. The reason is because NIOSH has rated this type of equipment as a respirator. Prior to this, it was called a “comfort mask”. This name sounded better than calling it, “a worthless false sense of protection”. It is now called a, “dust mask”, or a “filtering face-piece”.

Here is what is required by OSHA if you wear this type of respirator (N95, or similar):n95

  • Employees must read and sign Appendix D (of the OSHA respirator standard)
  • Employees must clean, inspect, and store their dust mask

That’s it.

UNLESS you are wearing this because:

  • Your employer requires it
  • You have overexposures
  • or, nobody “wouldn’t wear it”. (meaning: it’s an industry practice, and when when we do this XXX task, everyone wears this type of respirator– this is the same as your employer requiring it)

If  any of the above statements are true, then you have more to do. Here are links for more information:

Voluntary Use of respirators

Fit testing

Getting ready to wear a respirator

Professionally I do not recommend these type of respirators. Email me if you’d like to know why.