Protective industrial products are important health and safety equipment used by all types of workers. These products protect the skin, eyes, mouth, nose, and other parts of the body as professionals perform potentially hazardous tasks. Protective health gear serves an important purpose and must meet high standards.
The people who rely on this equipment to ensure their health and safety need these products to perform without fail and they must be consistent regardless of the manufacturer. This is why NIOSH standards are employed. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is a branch of the CDC.
They conduct research and set recommendations and standards for preventing occupational health hazards, including illness and injury. This applies to the manufacture of products like protective masks and respirators, as well as other health gear worn by medical professionals, first responders, and emergency personnel. NIOSH-certified and approved products are those that comply with a series of rigorous quality assurance and performance requirements.
Apart from face masks, NIOSH standards are applied to protective clothing, gloves, and footwear, noise shields and hearing protection, eye safety products, hard hats, face shields, and a range of other personal protective equipment (PPE).
The N95 Mask And The Necessity Of NIOSH Approved Products
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the vast majority of people who regularly used NIOSH-certified products were professionals who needed them for protection against occupational and environmental dangers. From industrial cleaners to research scientists, NIOSH-certified gear serves as a barrier for harmful substances, inhalable particles, and pathogens.
As coronavirus cases increased in early 2020, wearing protective masks became a safety measure for all people moving through potentially infectious situations—not only in hospitals and clinics, but in schools, offices, and shops.
This is when the general public became more familiar with NIOSH respirator masks, specifically the N95 mask. N95 masks are just one variety of NIOSH filtering facepiece respirators (FFR). These masks must meet special product criteria to form an adequate seal over the mouth and nose and also filter out airborne particles like dust and spores and small microbes like bacteria and viruses.
The materials and structure of N95 masks ensure that no more than five percent of particulate matter can penetrate the barrier. They are usually a standard for doctors, surgeons, and other health care providers.
But as masks became an integral element in preventing Covid cases, N95 masks were in high demand regardless of profession. Supplies of NIOSH respirator masks, and other protective health gear like gloves, were rapidly depleted as hospitals and care centers filled with patients. Supply issues worsen as people bulk bought masks for everyday life.
Even as PPE manufacturers worked to increase production and people outside of the health care industry made do with homemade and non-certified masks, extreme demand for N95 masks led to increased counterfeiting and misrepresentation of NIOSH certifications.
The practice became startling common; according to the CDC, roughly 60 percent of N95-labeled respirator masks the center evaluated in 2020 and 2021 were found to be counterfeit or mislabeled. To help consumers avoid these suspect products, the CDC and NIOSH provide resources to confirm NIOSH-approved products so they can be efficiently distinguished from uncertified products.
How Can A NIOSH Certification Be Confirmed?
One of the simplest ways to confirm that a product is NIOSH approved is to check for a TC approval number and search for that number on the NIOSH’s Certified Equipment List (CEL). Companies that make NIOSH-certified health gear are added to the CEL. If no entry appears, this usually means the product has not been NIOSH certified. In addition to this reference, consumers can check for an approval holder number or logo, part number, model number, and protection filter series number.
If this information is missing from the product, it is a strong indicator that the product has not been certified. In the case of products that lose NIOSH approval, the TC approval number will no longer appear on the CEL and will also be reported on the NIOSH’s Conformity Assessment Notices webpage and other online resources. In circumstances that require optimal safeguards from potential hazards, it’s important to confirm specific protective capacities. Relying on a product that falls short of such standards can pose real health threats.