Mask Fit Testing for N95 Respirators

mask fit test

At this point during the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us wear a face mask of some sort. In many jurisdictions it is a requirement to wear a face mask when entering public indoor locations. For the average person, a reusable cloth mask or a disposable medical mask is usually adequate to provide some form of protection against water droplets. However, there are certain professions, such doctors and nurses, Public Service Workers, dental hygienists, dentists, as well as, construction and plant workers, where there are bioaerosols or toxic air or dust in in the work environment.

These professions require a higher grade of mask, also known as a respirator.  These masks are regulated, and an employee needs to be mask fit test with their mask for use at work. These respirators must be airtight, to safely minimize the unfiltered air that can get past and will usually negate particulates (gas, vapor or particulates).

Respirators must be able to filter out a certain amount of bioaerosols, chemicals, smoke or dust based on the rating that they are given. N95 respirators, for example, were originally used for industrial purposes, such as in carpentry, construction, mining, and painting. These types of N95 respirators would have had minimal protection against water droplet penetration.

Today, during the pandemic, dentists, hygienists, doctors, PSWs and many other frontline workers are using N95 respirators, especially if they work with aerosols. These professions that would have previously used medical masks, now require respirators that not only provide protection against water droplet penetration but must also be airtight. Employers must make sure that their employees have their respirators mask fit tested and that all variables align with the current Canadian CSA-Z94 standard (currently CAN/CSA Z94.4-18 in Ontario).

 

What does getting a Respirator Mask Fit Certification mean?

A respirator mask fit test is when a person gets certified for use of a specific mask make/manufacturer and model (i.e. Makrite Secura, 3M 8210,or a  P-100 ½ face mask for example) has a good air seal to a person’s face. Every mask make and model is unique and face / head is unique.  Some mask fits are a challenge to fit, given the variability of mask type and person.

This means that the mask fit certification is very specific to the mask make and model.  It is similar to issuing a person a driver’s license, BUT  the license is only valid for the person to drive one make and model vehicle (i.e. Toyota Camry).  Once a mask fit is passed, this person can only use this mask make and model.  If this person uses another mask, they must get a new mask fit on that mask.

Certifications are valid for 2 years from the issue date and they follow Occupational Health and Safety Standards and CSA Z-98.4-xx.  CSA Z-94 standards slightly vary across the provinces. Mask fit testing is done in one of two ways: through a quantitative test (QNFT) (or a qualitative test (QLFT).

 

What respirator type should I use?

respiratory type

Many of you have likely already come across masks claiming that they are “N95 masks”, but what does this mean exactly? If a mask truly has an N95 rating, then it is a respirator according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH is an American organization that is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It carries out research and tests to protect workers, and it creates the standards that are applied to respirators. These standards are commonly used in the Canada, the USA and many other countries.

Respirator classifications according to NIOSH are determined by an alphanumeric system. NIOSH approved masks are listed on the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. The letters “N”, “R” and “P” are used to describe how resistant a respirator is to oil-based particulates. Oil-based particulates are tricky because they can easily penetrate respirators that are ill-equipped to block them. A respirator with an “N” classification is non-resistant, one with an “R” is resistant, and one with a “P” is oil-proof. Of the three classifications, N-rated respirators tend to last the longest, with R-rated ones having the shortest lifespan. The numbers in a respirator classification indicate the percentage of particulates that any given respirator can filter out.

Your typical N95 respirator will theoretically filter out 95% of particulates in the surrounding air. The numbers used are 95, 99 and 100 (technically 99.97). While there are nine combinations of letters and numbers possible in the NIOSH classification system, there is not a respirator that is strictly better in the general sense. Some respirators will provide better protection, but that comes at the cost of their service life. Furthermore, respirators that provide more protection tend to cost more and they can feel harder to breathe through.

Choosing a respirator to fit will come down largely to a combination of how long you want it to last and what you need to protect against. Remember that while some respirators will last longer than others, it is always a good idea to safely change out the filter under certain circumstances or after the recommended amount of time to avoid contamination.

  

Where can I get a mask fit test done?

Employers can conduct mask fit testing themselves if there is someone trained to do so. Otherwise they must find an alternative method. If you are looking for N95 mask fit testing for yourself or your employees, then this is a program that has you covered. It uses a qualitative mask fit test to easily and thoroughly determine whether something like a N95 respirator fits correctly. If an N95 mask is used at a place of work, it MUST follow OHSA regulations CAN/CSA Z94.4-18 standard and all wearers MUST be fit tested. The CAN/CSA Z94.4-18 standard includes such rules as not having facial hair that interferes with a respirator’s ability to fit properly, to participate in mask fit testing.  As a wearer it is your responsibility to wear the respirator correctly so that you can be aware if it is not fitting properly at any point. Try not to brush off any doubt when it comes to your respirator’s fit, because depending on the dangers present, some workplaces can be life threatening.

 

What is the Difference between Qualitative and Quantitative Fit testing?

Mask fit testing is done in one of two ways: through a quantitative test (QNFT) or a qualitative test (QLFT). Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, but they each achieve the same result. The aim is to make sure that a respirator is fitted perfectly to an individual’s face, so that air is safely filtered.

  • Quantitative mask fit testing involves the use of a Portacount or Quantafit machine to get a measurement using a respirator’s fixed air supply. While this method provides an accurate, objective reading, the machines are expensive.
  • Qualitative mask fit testing, which is used quite frequently, especially when fit testing N95 respirators, uses an individual’s taste sensitivity. Something like saccharin (Benzoic sulfimide), which is sweet, or Bitrex (Denatonium Benzoate), which is bitter, is used to determine whether there is any leakage in a fitted respirator. Bitrex may tend to give better visual responses due to its bitterness, and saccharin cannot be used if an individual is pregnant. Qualitative testing is a less expensive option, but it does present a certain amount of subjectivity and the possibility of a placebo effect. If the individual being tested is aware of what they are being tested with and is honest about what they smell or taste, then there should not be any issues.

Remember that employers are responsible for telling you what sort of respirator is required for your workplace, and to make sure that you are mask fit tested correctly. Mask fit tests must be done at least every two years for the simple reason that people’s faces change.

 

What is a KN95?  Can I use it in Canada or the US?

KN95 mask

Although its respirator classifications are used in many countries, NIOSH is not the only organization that has them. A KN95 mask is one that has been regulated by the Chinese government. During the pandemic N95 respirator shortage in North America, KN95 masks have been temporarily approved by regulators for use in North America.   Both classifications provide very similar protection, but basically, there are 3 differences:

  1. The Chinese government requires manufacturers to run mask fit tests on KN95 masks. There is no such requirement for N95 respirators.
  2. N95 respirators must conform to certain standards regarding pressure drop while inhaling, while KN95 masks do not.
  3. N95 respirators must conform to certain standards regarding pressure drop while exhaling, while KN95 masks do not.

Lately, the dependability of KN95 masks has come into question because of bad batches being shipped to North America, and the questionable quality that can sometimes be found. In China, there is no independent body that is equivalent to NIOSH, so there is no organization acting to check that the Chinese government is approving the appropriate masks. When deciding whether they are worth getting, do so with this in mind. Some other comparable mask classifications to N95 respirators are:

  • FFP2 (Europe)
  • P2 (Australia/New Zealand)
  • Korea 1st class (Korea)
  • DS2 (Japan)

 

What is the difference between a 3M medical (surgical) mask versus a 3M industrial (standard) respirator?

Firstly, be aware that 3M is one of several companies that are known for producing masks and respirators. Secondly, try not to think about the difference between medical masks and industrial respirators as a “one or the other” comparison. In the US for example, medical masks are regulated by the FDA while industrial respirators are regulated by NIOSH. Medical masks prioritize fluid resistance, while industrial respirators prioritize particulate filtration. Therefore, it is entirely possible for any appropriate company to have an N95 medical respirator that has been approved by both NIOSH and the FDA if it provides particulate filtration and fluid resistance.  This can be said for any country that has equivalents to NIOSH and the FDA, like Canada (The CSA Group and Health Canada respectively).

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Customer Reviews

The SOS First Aid & AED recertification course instructed by Patty was a wonderful experience. This course was filled with a great mixture of both theory and practice which made the material much easier to grasp. Patty is very nice and did an exceptional job engaging with the class.Highly recommended instructor :)
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Teka Clarke
I have taken several first aid CPR courses with many different companies. I have to say this was the best training I have attended. Patty the instructor was engaging and funny with relevant experiences that really drove the point home. I will be using SOS first aid training from now on.
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David McIntyre
I took my BLS course from SOS and it was an amazing expercience. The instructor, Ms Patty is friendly and explained all the procedures in details. Hands on experience was fun. Moreover, the facility is nice and clean and very welcoming.
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Kartikay Srivastava
In Oakville my instructor Patty was amazing. I learned a lot and when I didn't understand she was sure that I was learning from it. Thanks SOS First Aid for the courses offered , those always are needed to keep us updated.
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Jose C.
The company has helped me out after my request for a rescheduled course. This is all we needed as emergencies happen and grateful they reconsidered their initial verdict. Thank you
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Pieter Medema
Just did First Aid BLS course with Patty. Great Instructor, Great course delivery - to the point, doesn't drag or make you fall asleep. Really liked Patty's style of teaching. Awesome personality!!FYI - No refunds if under 48 hrs notice.I enjoyed both days of the course.
arsh
arsh
Had a knowledgeable session with Tyson.He is amazing!! great examples.!!! Thank you so much Tyson!
nikivelastgui
nikivelastgui
Completed the Standard First Aid/CPR C course for the first time and the instructor Tyson was great!!
Ana Arrieta
Ana Arrieta
It was very fun class and I had learned a lots from my trainer Tyson. Thank you very much.
Wan Nilprasert
Wan Nilprasert
Tyson is awesome and a great instructor! Appreciated his experience and knowledge with first aid! Would recommend this course to anyone.
Denzel Pinto
Denzel Pinto
Had a knowledgeable and engaging session with Tyson. He is an amazing instructor who knows his content well and delivers it phenomenally with great examples. The hands-on experience made the CPR more fun and engaging. Overall, it was an informative session and I would recommend others to take it as well. Thank you Tyson!
Rameesha Rehmani
Rameesha Rehmani
I participated in a CPR-C/AED recertification course today and the price was very reasonable. My instructor “Tyson” was very knowledge explaining the various topics and his hands-on abilities while performing CPR and the different choking maneuvers was excellent.
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Jason Nguyen
Completed the Emergency First Aid and BLS training for the first time and the Instructor (Patty) was amazing! Super cool and funny and explained everything in a simple yet understandable manner. Covid-19 protocols and social distancing was handled well with spaced out seating, mandatory masks, everything being sanitized. personal training manikin, and modified training lessons that reduced passing items around.
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Justin Huynh
Had a great experience there!! Well structured and organized information, been a while since I’d been to “class”. The instructor Patty, was phenomenal, makes everyone feel welcomed and ensures you have a thorough understanding of the information being presented. Would highly recommend SOS for any and all of your first aid training requirements. Thanks for everything Patty, you inspired this momma:)
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Lydia Zeman
Great program. Took Standard Firat Aid C, and Patty and Marita were fantastic!! Learned a lot in short time and shown the proper way to conduct CPR. Would suggest anyone capable of doing CPR/standard first aid should attend this course, especially if you are worried about doing CPR/first aid wrong. They show how it's done properly and give you the confidence to do it. Also very accommodating.
Michelle Sone
Michelle Sone
Fun class made easy to learn and retain information with instructors Patty & Marita highly recommend for first aid , CPR Level C & AED
Lori Corkin
Lori Corkin
I just took the course at SOS in Mississauga for emergency first aid. My instructor Patty was amazing she is very engaging and made sure that everyone's questions were answered and clarified anything that was confusing. I have already recommended this course to my fellow classmates. I also had trouble on the website to register as a student in order to get the discount. However, the staff was really amazing when I called and refunded me the amount in order for me to receive the student discount. I would definitely recommend SOS to anyone who is looking either to get emergency first aid or standard first aid done. I would also do my re-certification at SOS!
Mary Best
Mary Best
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shaza selim
shaza selim
I participated in an Emergency First Aid Course with SOS in Mississauga. Their location in Square one at 4141 Living Arts Drive was excellent. Patty as a course Instructor also was full of knowledge and experience. Attending a class with her was really enjoyable and fun filled. I appreciate SOS for choosing such an excellent location and hiring some of the best instructors in the field.
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Jhumki Laksar
Yesterday I had the privilege to take the CPR level C course at the Living Arts Center in Mississauga . It was my very first time taking this course and I didn't know what to expect. However, I need to let you know that the course was very informative and I had an amazing experience and all because of my instructor, Patty. She is very knowledgeable and has so much experience, and knows how to deliver information in a fun way which keeps the class very engaged. She is also very accommodating and makes sure to personally clean all the tools you use to ensure they are sanitary. I am very thankful for everything she taught me and I highly recommend everyone to take this course.
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Hedviga Zareczky
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cara castillo
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Manu A.Rajah
Manu A.Rajah
Amazing instructor! Really learned to save lives and I feel confident to do it in my feel of work. Thank you Patty!
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Endy s
Patty did an excellent job teaching our first aid training.She made the course fun and very informative.She is very passionate about what she does based on her own life experiences that she graciously shared with us.Thanks Patty for the training and confidence I would need if ever put in a life threatening situation.
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Donna Greeley
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Austin Gosse
A great way to get your First Aid Cert. Minimum two day for standard which yes seems long and a waste of a weekend, but it goes by fast and lots of fun practice.
villagemayor
villagemayor
Excellent First Aid CPR-C/BLS courses, easy to understand and detailed explanations, instructor made the course very interesting and fun so we don't lose our focus, our instructor Patty, Jessica was excellent with the scientific proof, and answered all the question passionately, situational and interesting activities. I was able to fully understand the importance of First aid, new information about the first aid. completed the course with excellent score and understanding.Thank you Patty and Jessica!
정한석
정한석
Patty was a great instructor,knowledgable and her paramedic work experience taught us alot I would recommend everybody to do first aid CPR course from Patty Thank-you.
Soulat Ali
Soulat Ali
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Aim Harry
Aim Harry
I took the wilderness first aid course with SOS First Aid and I loved it, I have also taken the standard first aid courses with this company, I've had a great experience everytime
Patrick Sacco
Patrick Sacco
I just completed my standard first aid with CPR - C and it was fantastic. The instructor Patty was so informative and sweet; I enjoyed the course so much, it went by so quickly. It was a great experience, I am so glad I took this course. I really do feel so much more confident knowing that I have the knowledge of how to deal with first aid situations that I could encounter in the future. Actually after finishing it, I want to register for more informative courses to get my training level higher. It made me want to register as a first responder in my college.
Alisa Boyarkin
Alisa Boyarkin
Took the 2 day standard first aid combo course and it was great. Class size was nice and small, and more importantly, Kathryn was a great instructor. Thanks again Kathryn.
Ali Amin
Ali Amin
It was a great class for me because I learn a lot. Patty is great teacher she made everything easy to understand. There were lots of example and experience for titles. The more important thing was that the class wasn't boring at all. Thanks for all of that patty.
Nasrin Bina
Nasrin Bina
Our instructor(Patty Turnbull) T was very nice. I felt totally comfortable in her class. She seemed very experienced and had many examples to visualize a situation and circumstances for us. I liked her approach to instruction. It was my second time that I participated in CPR and First Aid course but I learned a lot in Patty's course. The room was appropriate and comfortable from different aspects like heat, chairs, noise and etc.
Maryam Molkabadin
Maryam Molkabadin
Great course this weekend wilderness first aid basic. Lots of information and very good instructors thank you Heather and Michelle
David Scarr
David Scarr
Patty is a phenomenal instructor! Engaging and hilarious, I would take another course with her in a heartbeat.
Marci Nash
Marci Nash
SOS First Aid is one of the best training companies I've worked with. They are extremely professional and knowledgeable. They are a great partner to work with!
Dan MacDonald
Dan MacDonald
Zhike Zhang
Zhike Zhang
I had a great experience with my recertification! Amit was an incredible instructor - very knowledgeable, clear and concise. He clearly demonstrated the use of the AED, first aid practises as well as CPR. I highly recommend his class!
lauren rowbottom
lauren rowbottom
The course is very informative and I recommend for anyone who needs to receive any sort of cpr or first aid certification to do it at SOS first aid. My instructor Amit was great, funny and informative, when I recertify I hope I get him again!
Cy w
Cy w
Amit is a great hands on trainer. Would recommend if looking for CPR and AED training
ahmed chakib
ahmed chakib
Nathalie Garratt
Nathalie Garratt
Tyson a real oneAmazing experience and class taught by tyson
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Saleh Chaudhry
Tyson is my dawgs he tought me how to save babies.
Aaliyah Isaac
Aaliyah Isaac
The class was amazing, they didn't rush with us . We were all engaged and Tyson was one of the best mentors ever
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Thekillaah Show
Heba B
Heba B
Great class and great instructors (Kathryn and tyson)
Meena Kirupakaran
Meena Kirupakaran
great instructors very active and left the course knowing what to do in emergency cases
Aous Salih
Aous Salih

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