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Disposable Dust Masks: Answers to Commonly Asked Questions

Proper fit, training and evaluations are key to protecting employees from exposure to respirable hazards when using disposable dust masks/respirators.

The two most-common questions I hear when it comes to disposable dust masks/respirators are: “My employees wear disposable dust masks – do I have to fit test these employees?” and “How often should they change out their mask for a new one?”

First, it’s important to consider the masks themselves. These devices often are referred to as filtering facepieces and can be approved or unapproved. Unapproved dust masks can be mistaken for approved products.

So how can you tell the difference? An unapproved dust mask will not have a NIOSH stamp of approval on it. An approved filtering facepiece, such as an N95/P95/N100 particulate respirator, always will have a NIOSH stamp on it. Approved respirators must be used if a fit test is performed.

Do I have to fit test employees?

Voluntary-use masks – When the contaminant exposure does not exceed the OSHA PEL (permissible exposure limit), or the employer does not require the employees to wear a respirator (despite being underexposed), either an approved or unapproved dust mask can be made available to the employee, or they can use their own. This is referred to as voluntary use. Fit testing is not required for either product if it is voluntary use. (Refer to OSHA 29CFR1910.134 for additional information on voluntary use. For instance, the employer must provide employees with the information contained in Appendix D of OSHA 2CFR1910.134.)

Required-use masks – When the employer requires workers to wear approved dust masks to protect against contaminants, then all elements of the OSHA respiratory standard apply, including fit testing, medical evaluations, training and program evaluations. Approved protocols for fit testing are included in the standard. (Please refer to OSHA 29CFR1910.134 for details.)

When should employees get a new respirator?

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