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The Safety Brief In our podcasts we give short but valuable overviews
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can be even more effective in protecting their workers.
In our podcasts we give short but valuable overviews and insights into how contractors and safety managers can be even more effective in protecting their workers.

N95 Respirator Basics

N95 respirators are part of a family of respirators which filter airborne hazards. The letter N means the respirator does not filter oil. The 95 indicates the percentage of particulates it can filter.

N99 and N100 filters are similar, but remove higher percentages of particulates. Those designated R are partially resistant to oil. Respirators with the letter P are fully resistant to oil. HE respirators are High Efficiency.

NIOSH is the government agency which rates these respirators, which are Particulate Filtering.
 This category breaks down into three types: filtering face piece, elastomeric and powered air purifying respirators (PAPR).

Watch out for fake respirators. It’s true. Some sellers offer counterfeits, which are inefficient and dangerous. Hear more in this podcast.


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(:04)N95_Respirator_Basics-Creative_Safety_Supply-250x250Dan Clark: N95. It’s not a freeway, it’s a respirator.

Hello, I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief. This is where we talk about health and safety hazards in today’s demanding industrial and construction worksites.

Workers often hear the term N95 respirator, but what does it actually mean? N95 is a certification from NIOSH, The National Institute For Occupational Safety and Health. It indicates how many particles the respirator can filter and the resistance to oil. You see, respirators must be appropriate for a specific airborne hazard in the workplace. To be OSHA compliant, the respirators have to be approved by NIOSH. I hope all these letters aren’t confusing.

NIOSH has 10 levels of certification: N95, N99 and N100. The “N” indicates these respirators are not oil resistant. The number refers to the percentage of particles that can be filtered. So, N95 means it’s not oil resistant and it captures 95% of the particles it’s supposed to filter.

There are other filters with different letter designations, “R,” “P” and “HE.” For example, R95, R99, R100. The “R” means that they are somewhat resistant to oil, and the numbers mean the same thing.

The filters labeled P95, P99 and P100 are oil-proof. The “P” indicates oil-proof, the numbers are the same.

“HE” stands for High Efficiency and they are only used in powered air purifying respirators.

All of these types of respirators that I’ve just mentioned are Particulate Filtering respirators and they break down in three different designs.

  • The filtering face piece respirator – which looks like a surgical mask.
  • Elastomeric respirators – they use replaceable cartridges to filter the air.
  • Powered air purifying respirators, PAPR’s – they use of battery-powered blower to move air through the filter.

Identifying N95 products: Look for the N95 or a NIOSH logo on the respirator or packaging. An approval number, sometimes called the TC number, should also be on the packaging. 

Beware of counterfeits. Yes, if you can believe it, there are fraudulent N95 respirators out there. If the price of the filters is too good to be true, or they’re from questionable sellers, beware.

Finally don’t alter an N95 respirator. Decorating by drawing, adding fabric, stapling anything voids the NIOSH certification.

That’s it for this episode on N95 Respirator Basics. Come back for more tips and techniques on how to stay safety compliant in today’s ever-changing landscape of safety requirements. I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief, sponsored by Creative Safety Supply. See the website at


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