California Wildfires and Wearing a N95 Respirator

As the wildfires continue to burn in Northern and Southern California, destroying communities and lives, millions of people are potentially exposed to the dangerous smoke which is composed of fine particulates (very small particles) that can get deep into the lungs and cause respiratory issues, such as asthma.  Some groups are especially vulnerable, including children and older individuals.  Our office is receiving numerous calls from employers on the use of respirators.  This blog will address many of the questions we are receiving on the use of N95 disposable respirators.

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the California Department of Public Health recommend “N95” respirators which are approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  The N95 respirators have the ability to filter at least 95 percent of airborne particles.  The N95 masks can be found at local hardware stores and other locations.  In order for the N95 respirators to work effectively it must be properly fitted.  However, even a properly fitted N95 respirator does not completely eliminate the risk of illness.

How to properly use a N95 respirator

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before putting on the respirator.
  • Place the respirator over your nose and under your chin, with one strap placed below the ears and one strap above (near the crown of your head).
  • Place your fingertips from both hands at the top of the metal part of the mask. Slide fingertips down both sides of the metal part to mold over the top of your nose.
  • Check your seal of the mask by placing both hands over the respirator and take a breath in to check if the respirator seals tightly to the face.
  • Place both hands completely over the respirator and exhale. If you feel a leakage, it is not properly sealed.
  • If air leaks around the nose, readjust the nosepiece. If air leaks at the mask edges, readjust the straps along the sides of your head until you have a proper seal.  Facial hair can adversely affect the seal of the mask.
  • If a proper seal is not achieved replace the mask with a new one. Inspect your respirator for any damage, and if it appears to be damaged, do not use it.

Removing your N95 respirator

  • Do not touch the front of the respirator. It may be contaminated.
  • Remove by pulling the bottom strap over the back of the head, followed by the top strap, without touching the respirator.
  • Discard in waste container and wash your hands. It is best to use a new mask each day if you can.

NOTE: N95 respirators are really not designed for children and as stated above people with facial hair.

The Cohen Group has assisted clients with respiratory fit-testing and other environmental health and safety guidance.