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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SOS First Aid and Safety Training services the following Southern Ontario communities: Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Mississauga, Oakville, Burlington, Milton, Guelph, Vaughan, Woodbridge, Maple, Richmond Hill, Brampton, Acton, Georgetown, Hamilton, Ancaster, Brantford, Stoney Creek, St. Catherines, and Welland.

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Very informative and proper courseJess was an amazing instructor
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Arsany Maged
Jess was awesome! It was a very interactive and informative class. Easy to learn environment. Would definitely recommend SOS First Aid.
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Learned how to provide the first aid.
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Very good classAlly made it very fun
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Peter Ayoub
Prakash was very enjoyable approachable fun and supportive. He was very empathetic in his teaching and instruction and corrections. I had a very enjoyable and supportive experience with him in the classroom
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I really enjoyed every time I spent throughout .
alonge segun
alonge segun
I did my first aid training for the first time and Karen was fun and so knowledgeable. Would do the training with them again for sure!!
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Puneet Khangura
Surprised that we weren’t bored out of our minds when we took the course
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the filipinaa
Our instructor Karen was amazing. Very knowledgeable. Highly recommended
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Karen Parker is funny and smart and one of the best instructors I’ve came across ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
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My name is janeka walsh and I wanted to say Ms viola is the besttt instructor ever !! Nice sweet and patient teacher ! I’m going to miss her
Tiffany Smith
Tiffany Smith
I recently attended a CPR training session led by an exceptional trainer PRAKASH. Whose ability to convey complex concepts with clarity and enthusiasm made the class both informative and enjoyable. His dynamic teaching style, coupled with real-life examples and hands-on approach, ensured that everyone was engaged and eager to learn. I highly recommend Prakash to anyone in search of CPR training.
MADIHA MONA
MADIHA MONA
It was a wonderful experience and the instructor was excellent in helping students understand the concepts
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Mirnalinidevy Kumaravel
Instructor is excellent and course is very interesting 👍
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brs F
brs F
This was a great first-aid class. I had instructor Patrick and he made class fun, interactive and informal at the same time. I recommend this course as I had a great time learning.
Parul 'v'
Parul 'v'
patrick was a W instructor!
Metokok plop
Metokok plop
It’s been an awesome training course delivered by Karen! The class was interactive and fun while she also shares some her amazing experiences. Thnx SOS and Karen!
Henry Limanto
Henry Limanto
Karen was a great trainer and kept the class fun
Keegan Brown
Keegan Brown
I had finished my training with Prakash.He is very knowledgeable person.He has cleared all my concepts about CPR and first aid.He is a great instructor.He really has done an amazing job in teaching this 2 day first aid and CPR course .Thanks.
Jaspreet Kaur
Jaspreet Kaur
Prakash is a great instructor! Knowledgable, passionate, engaging, and he made the class fun. He also discussed a lot of different scenarios that were challenging and made me think, and that caused me to really dig into what I learned online to provide the best answer. His teaching reminded me what the priority/most important thing in each scenario was, and that you have to assess each situation with careful consideration. Thank you, Prakash! I feel confident that I'll be able to help someone in any situation, minor or emergency. 😊
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Melissa Gunther
This is the First Aid course to be on board with.Ally led today’s instruction! What an amazing instructor who uses her teaching to cater to various learning styles and effectively gets the training done. So appreciative. Very grateful. Thank you!
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Melissa
Melissa
Ms Ally, our instructor is so helpful, she lets us participate in the activity, she makes us feel relaxed, can be easily understood and can be easily approached. The place is clean and in order!! Thank you SOS!
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Cristina Montefalcon
Navreet was amazing! She explained everything in good detail and made the first Aid and CPR training a breeze!
Logic Is a Race
Logic Is a Race
Ally was awesome!!!
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My two instructors today at 10 Kingsbridge Garden Circle reawaken the extreme importance of not just getting certified as a Firstaider but ensuring we left more confident and knowledgeable to help as needed. #nolongerabystander
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This was an amazing course with some excellent teachers. Both Ally and Lydia were so incredibly patient and caring and incredible at giving well thought out answers. Long day but it was so nice to have such nice people teaching you. The test at the end was short but intensive aswell. So pay attention!
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It was great…Thanks Mr Dennis 🤗
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ODUNAYO ADESEWA
Great session with Dennis
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Sonia A
Training with Daniel was very interactive and fun. I learnt alot.
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Karen Guevarra
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Mario is an excellent instructor.
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I am happy being lucky to have this course with a great instructor Patty Turnbull. She is very knowledgeable and efficient, her accent is very clear , she is talented to educate in a way to keep us attentive without feeling board although it is a long day. Thank you Patty. Thank you SOS
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Avocado Ception
Avocado Ception
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Benson Amihere
Prakash was our trainer who made this training fun and dispensed a lot of information with examples. Prakash converted complex information into easy digestible information without overwhelming us. There was not a single dull moment in the entire training and Prakash covered every aspect of first-aid/CPR in timely manner. He's passionate, well organized, very engaging and humorous. Thank you, Prakash.
Kulwant Singh
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Peggy was excellent.
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Training is good and more hands on with real life examples.
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Viralkumar Rathod
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Patty Turnbull was a wonderful teacher and took time to help us, and go through the material thank you Patty!
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Patty was amazing
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Charlin Osei
Patty Turnbull did a fantastic job with the course. Thank you
Jesse Dwyer
Jesse Dwyer
Has a great training session. Our instructor Patty was great at explaining the material, what to look out for and how best to help the person. She equipped us well in providing CPR and using AED.Thank you for a great session!!
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Smit Chotai
Great experience. Instructor Mario Sacco was interactive and made it an enjoyable experience.
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Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
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Asima Sultana
Easy to understand and great humour. Will be back in 2 years!
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Mayou Stoddart
Such a sweet man, funny guy.
Dania
Dania
Prabh Gill
Prabh Gill
I am very happy to be here and study with Mario. He is very nice person and he helped us mask fit very seriously and he was very dedicated. I learned a lot of knowledge about mask knowledge and skills. Thanks Mario, thanks the Red Cross.
Enqi Huang
Enqi Huang
Kamani Sirisena
Kamani Sirisena
Session was delivered professionally.
M Y
M Y
Thank you Prakash for an awesome class. I didnt think I wouldnt learn so much more from the class today, my class was able to get lots of misconceptions clarified. You challenged us with critical scenarios and made us think. From my past experience , I think first aid class would be boring but for the first time at the SOS first aid centre, I’m very happy with the instructor. Highly recommend!
Natalie Le
Natalie Le
I just wanted to say thank you very much to Patty for being a great and wonderful instructor. For making us understand the material thoroughly and clearly. And most of all for being patient with us. If I need to do another course that they offer, I would definitely do it here and highly recommend it for everyone. Thanks again Patty and SOS First Aid and Safety Training
Jake Ilyas Qureshi
Jake Ilyas Qureshi
Patty was great! Very informative and patient
Faisa S
Faisa S
i did bls and first aid training here with patty. she was such a good teacher/instructor. she was very helpful, funny, and engaging she gives a lot of stories which help us remember important details. it was a really fun and informative class. i wish the best for mrs patty!!!
tierra cab
tierra cab
khadija gaouzi
khadija gaouzi
Patty was great!
Leanne
Leanne
Solomon Cusi
Solomon Cusi
I had patty for my instructor and she was so good!! She explained everything in a clear and concise manner. It was overall a fun two days in class with her!!😄
Shakali Martin
Shakali Martin
I am really impressed by the teaching method of Mr. Prakash nagar.
Himanshu
Himanshu
It was an amazing experience! Prakash Nagar is having great knowledge with First Aid & CPR. He clarified clearly when to administer CPR, AED which was a bit confusing for me when I did the reading online.
Dharmesh Patel
Dharmesh Patel
Vineeta Lekhram
Vineeta Lekhram
Thao Nguyen
Thao Nguyen
Every aspect was taken and explains properly
Olga Ezcurra
Olga Ezcurra
The instructors were very nice and informative. They gave great feedback throughout the whole process
Naomi McDonald
Naomi McDonald
Instruction was clear and the instructor ensured that all questions and concerns were addressed appropriately. Highly recommend!
Jacob Waddell (jcwaddell)
Jacob Waddell (jcwaddell)
It was good and entertaining as well.☺️
Nisha 120991
Nisha 120991
Patty is an amazing instructor. She explain all the materials in a very effective manner. I liked her teaching skills.
Raman Kamboj
Raman Kamboj
Patty is a very nice woman and her as an instructor is fantastic! Was such a nice experience.Thanks 😊
Sadaf Raza
Sadaf Raza
Seriously...Patty is such a gem of a woman and her as an instructor is fantastic! Was such a lovely experience! Hopefully I get her for my RE-certification again next time!
Raven Feldman
Raven Feldman
Great instruction and easily accessible location with ample parking.
Sasha M
Sasha M
Katey Hamilton
Katey Hamilton
Catherine G. Dela Cruz
Catherine G. Dela Cruz
Had a great class with Dr. Prakash. He is super knowledgable! I will recert with SOS next year.
Beonca Luk
Beonca Luk
Patty is an amazing instructor. I had a fun & educational experience.
h w
h w
Fantastic lecturer and is very precise about the whole training.
Ray Arnold
Ray Arnold
Patty is an amazing instructor. She explains all the materials thoroughly.
Keerthana Neethirasa
Keerthana Neethirasa
Patty is one of the best instructors I've had, she's super nice and fun and always ensuring everybody is on track and performing well. She made the class fun and go by quick
dema alnakeeb
dema alnakeeb
Ranya Salih
Ranya Salih
It was a great experience
Jemimah Robin
Jemimah Robin
Mario was awesome! Detailed, quick, and friendly instructor.
Julian Salvador
Julian Salvador
Mario is Very knowledgeable!Highly recommend!
Nida Javaid
Nida Javaid
Mario was a pleasant teacher that was patient and humorous.
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