September 5th, 2014 7:42 am ET - Jaclyn Krah, MA
N95 Day is finally here again. We hope that you have been looking forward to it as much as we have! N95 Day has become an annual observance, now in its third year. This year we are focusing on the specific theme of “Respiratory Preparedness: Where Technology Meets Good Practices.” Confidence and familiarity with proper respirator practices is important for employers, respiratory protection program managers, and safety managers in all industries who rely on N95 respiratory protection to help keep workers safe. The education to build this familiarity must happen before the time comes where a respirator is needed.
What do we mean by: Where Technology Meets Good Practices?
It’s what we do as the nation’s personal protection equipment PPE research, surveillance, standards development, and certification laboratory joining together with what you do in your workplace in order to build a safe working environment and culture. The NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) works closely with the respirator manufacturers to ensure that NIOSH-certified respirators provide the users the protection they need. This requires that each new respirator model successfully passa stringent series of tests to get the NIOSH certification, and that a high level of product performance is maintained to keep the respirators on the market.
For a better understanding of why respirator certification is necessary, please view our video:Respirator Certification – As Vital as the Air We Breathe.
You can get an idea of what the N95 filtering facepiece respirator testing process entails in this short video, What it Means to be NIOSH-Approved: A look into N95 Certification Testing.
As our research progresses, we gain more insight into the best practices for using respirators. For example, if you tune in to this year’s healthcare-focused N95 Day webinar today 12:00 ET, you will hear us discuss the recent NIOSH guidance on extended use and limited reuse of N95 respirators, which might be used when demand outstrips supplies such as in times of pandemic. Our researchers will examine the concern that extended use and limited reuse of N95 filtering facepiece respirators may allow pathogens to be transferred from the respirator surface to the hands of healthcare workers during donning (putting on), doffing (taking off), or handling. NIOSH developed a model to estimate N95 filtering facepice respirator contamination in healthcare settings to assess risk during times when these practices are in place. At this webinar, we will also discuss healthcare worker exposure to airborne pathogens such as influenza, and the role that N95 filtering facepiece respirators play in protecting workers. Finally, we will look at the pros and cons of stockpiling, such as respirator degradation during storage, good storage practices, and how to determine if stored respirators are likely to be effective when needed.
In another effort to bridge the science with the practices, researchers at NIOSH conducted a study to determine healthcare worker familiarity with recommended respiratory protection practices, including the selection of respiratory protective devices. Collaborating with several state health departments and universities, NIOSH conducted the Respirator Use Evaluation in Acute Care Hospitals (REACH II) study. Research staff observed respirator donning and doffing demonstrations by more than 300 healthcare workers to determine healthcare worker understanding about which respiratory protection to use. For more information on this important study, please read our recent REACH II Blog,Reaching Towards a Healthier, Safer Workplace: NIOSH looks at healthcare worker familiarity with recommended respiratory protection practices.
Improving personal protection equipment and practices through research and technology is what we do. But we realize that it’s about collaboration for worker safety. Employers/administrators/employees: you are the ones with your feet on the ground incorporating proper safety practices, including the use of N95 respirators, in your workplace. Applying good practices for yourself or for your employees is what you do.
In most cases, respirators are not meant to be the first line of defense. A Hierarchy of Controls should be instituted, and respiratory protection shouldn’t be the primary method of protection. But we encourage you not to forget about respirators, so that you and your employees can have the basis of education necessary for when and how to use NIOSH-approved respiratory protection.
In our N95 Day efforts, we continue to build upon our theme as @NIOSH and @NPPTL host a Twitter Chat at 2 p.m. ET to discuss best practices for respirator use, touching upon several occupational sectors. Join us by searching #N95Chat in your twitter search box. Look for more N95 Day activities as we promote our educational products using #N95Day.
We hope that you will take the time this N95 Day to consider the best practices for using N95 respirators in your workplace. A lot of information will be flying about social media channels, so please look for NIOSH on facebook, twitter, pinterest, and the N95 Day webpage for more resources. In case you are just catching up with N95 day here in 2014, flash back to 2012 and 2013 for more guidance and information on N95 respirators in our previous N95 Day blogs: N95 Day 2012 and N95 Day 2013.
Happy N95 Day!
Jaclyn Krah, MA
Ms. Krah is a Health Communication Specialist in the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory.