Both NIOSH-certified masks and surgical masks perform the same function, and that is to protect you against the presence of air contaminants around you. However, there are many differences between these two protective devices, though some respective models look similar to each other in appearance. Here they are:
Surgical masks are not designed to pass a fit test. Their primary purpose is to protect you from absorbing hazardous airborne particles and to avoid transmitting contaminants to other people. When you use surgical masks, even those with tight-fitting straps, you should expect gaps around the edges that may allow small particles to enter your respiratory system.
For surgical N95 respirators and industrial N95 respirators, however, they are specifically designed to pass the fit and filtering performance test. Respirators are meant to provide optimal protection for the user by completely sealing off the gap between the device and the face. As a wearer, you will be required to undergo fit testing before you are allowed to use an N95 respirator in accordance with Respiratory Protection Standard 29 CFR 1910.134. The National Institute for Occupancy on Safety and Health (NIOSH) also requires a certification test for all types of N95 respirators before they are allowed to be exposed in a contaminated workplace setting.
Surgical masks and other types of face masks can be used by the general public as protection against infectious respiratory diseases. While wearing these protective units, however, people are advised to follow safety health protocols, such as physical distancing, regular use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and frequent hand washing, to reduce potential transmission.
For NIOSH-approved N95 respirators, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discourages the public from using them. Surgical N95 respirators should be reserved for medical workers who need protection against hazardous biological contaminants and infectious respiratory diseases. Healthcare providers should prioritize essential medical personnel who are at the highest risk of contracting transmittable airborne diseases either from their contaminated workplace or any patient. CDC has also released specific guidelines requiring healthcare providers to formulate N95 respirator crisis strategies to conserve supplies while safeguarding health workers against respiratory problems.
Degree of Protection
Surgical masks are commonly referred to as laser masks, dental masks, isolation masks, and medical procedure masks, by which they can be used for non-toxic, non-dusty workplaces, including diagnostic labs, operating rooms, or even food manufacturing plants. In a healthcare setting, surgical masks are intended to protect the patient, not the wearer, from nasal secretion, facial discharges, and saliva. Over the side of the wearer, a surgical mask may provide ample protection against mild exposure to body fluids, microorganisms, and large airborne particles. However, since this protective device is not tight-fitted, you may likely have an inward leakage for some particles floating in the air.
Most surgical masks can cover the nose and mouth loosely since they are not created for a customized fit. Additionally, these are not regulated and approved by NIOSH with regard to fit and filtering standards.
Cleared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), surgical N95 respirators are intended to reduce exposure to airborne contaminants for the user. However, N95 respirators may not be able to completely eliminate these contaminants and risk of respiratory infection. Aside from this, they are not totally resistant to chemicals and oil spills.
A NIOSH-certified N95 respirator requires fit testing, and it should be adjusted to your facial profile to get the necessary protection. Each N95 respirator is capable of filtering almost 95% of tiny particles with a mass median diameter of 0.3 micrometers. Unlike surgical masks, which can be used without regulations, Employers and wearers are required to follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Respiratory Protection Standard, 29CFR 1910.134. These standards likely include specific use instructions, reminders, and device limitations while being worn in highly contaminated work conditions.
Length of Use
Surgical masks are intended for single-use and should be discarded after every procedure or when exposed to an outdoor environment for an extended time. Surgical N95 respirators, on the other hand, should be taken off and worn away from the contaminated area.
Frequent donning and doffing of N95 respirators may potentially put you at risk of developing respiratory illnesses or infection even if you only do this for a few seconds. With regard to proper N95 respirator disposal, each workplace enforces individual policies depending on the hazard levels that these respirators are being used. However, if supplies of respirators become constrained or insufficient, there are specific CDC guidelines available, suggesting the practice of extended use and limited use of respirators in such circumstances.
To protect yourself from respiratory disease transmission, wearing the appropriate type of face masks should always form part of your personal health checklist. Furthermore, it is recommended to monitor the facepiece respirator fit before and after each use to avoid leakage around the gaps.