Getting your employees fit-tested for N95 respirators

Return To Work & Staying Safe: Part Two

This series is brought to you by Riskall, an N-Tech partner and focuses on helping you stay safe during your transition back to work 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented number of people who now depend on N95 style respirators for protection at work. These masks are relatively inexpensive and offer a high degree of protection. However, employers need to take appropriate precautions to ensure that masks do not create an additional hazard and that they are used as intended. Employers are responsible for meeting the fit testing requirements under the Federal OSHA or State OSHA Respiratory Protection Standards.


Infographic provided by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Prior to employers requiring workers to wear respirators, including filtering face-piece respirators, they must obtain medical clearance for each employee.  Employers must select a health care professional to perform a medical evaluation of each employee before mandating N95 respirators.

Why does a medical evaluation of each employee have to be performed?

Respirators can make breathing more difficult and not everyone is able to wear a respirator. Some conditions that could prevent employees from using a tight fitting respirator include heart conditions, lung disease, and psychological conditions like claustrophobia. OSHA has a standard medical questionnaire that can be used for this purpose.

Once the health care approval is obtained, then employees must be fit tested prior to use. Fit testing is performed by a qualified individual in order to ensure that the respirator is properly sized and fitted to the individual. Human faces are very diverse, and no single mask fits every face.  A poorly fitted respirator would allow air to bypass the filter and expose the wearer to the hazardous substance (virus, in this case).

How does the testing work and how long will it take?

There are several different methods of fit testing respirator, but they all use a substance in the air to detect if the mask is sealed tightly to the face.  Fit testing takes about 15-20 minutes and must be performed annually. If leaks are discovered, it can mean that employees need to adjust how the mask is worn, or be provided with a different respirator.

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Often switching to a different size, make or model will offer an improved fit.  In my fit testing experience, about 20-40% of users fail a fit test on the first attempt and need to make adjustments prior to passing. On some this requires changing how the respirator is worn on the face, adjusting the straps, or possibly substituting  a different model.

According to OSHA regulations, fit testing must be repeated annually. A NIOSH/CDC study found that the number of employees who no longer maintain proper fit doubles as each year passes.

Ted Sommer is N-Tech Consulting's workplace safety partner from Riskill Inc., specializing in safety and risk management services.

Which safety mask should you wear when returning to work?

Return To Work & Staying Safe: Part One

This series is brought to you by N-Tech Consulting 's safety partner Riskall,  and focuses on helping you stay safe during your transition back to work 


Most health care providers have very specialized expertise in their respective fields. However, the technical aspects of personal protective equipment (PPE) ratings might not be one of them.  Let’s explore one aspect of our PPE that have become a cornerstone of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

UnderstandDifference3Are there ratings on masks, and what do they mean?

Disposable N95 filtering face-piece respirators (commonly called “N95 respirators”) currently used in healthcare settings have been in limited supply. This is a time where misleading sales and scams surface.

NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) sets the standards for masks. NIOSH is a division of the CDC. They set standards for filtration and efficiency of respirators, including N95s. They conduct the tests on masks to verify performance also. Masks that carry a NIOSH approval label indicate that the mask conforms to the standards set by NIOSH. If it does not have a NIOSH cert you may be wasting your money and risking your life.

Surgical style masks aren’t tested by NIOSH and instead gain their approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the FDA doesn’t have the stringent testing protocol like NIOSH.

Are N95 respirators better than surgical style masks?

There are many standards for masks to be used in different environments for different purposes.  Surgical style masks, sometimes referred to as K95 or KN95 masks, provide limited protection from splashes, sprays and bodily fluids. They aren’t tight fitting, whereas N95 masks rely on a tight seal to the face for protection.

Examples of different N95 filtering face-piece respirators

Examples of different N95 filtering face-piece respirators

While surgical style masks have been work successfully for decades and provide better protection than no mask at all, they don’t have a reliable rated protection factor. This is due to the loose fit and the ability for air, and aerosol particles, to bypass the mask and enter the airway.

N95 masks are rated to filter over 95% of airborne particles in the specified size range. In order to accomplish this, masks need to be sized appropriately, and users need to be fit tested to ensure a tight seal.

Prior to using N95 masks, OSHA requires that employees have medical approval and proper fit testing. Fit testing must be repeated annually. Once in use, masks must be properly worn, cared for, and kept clean. Look for more detailed information about mask use, cleaning and fit testing on our other blog posts here.

Ted Sommer is N-Tech Consulting's workplace safety partner from Riskill Inc., specializing in safety and risk management services.

Securing a remote workforce during COVID-19

Why deploying SentinelOne’s Endpoint Protection Plan is the best choice.

Since the World Health Organization declared global pandemic caused by COVID-19 on March 11th we’ve only begun to see the start of challenges businesses across the state of Wisconsin are facing in order to adopt a remote-based workforce. Even more so in the past week since governor Tony Evers ordered a statewide moratorium on events with 10 or more people. With an increasing threat becoming more and more real, businesses across the state are in need of a solution to embrace a remote workforce.

However, the pressure put on organizations in transitioning their staff to remote-based work can cause real cybersecurity issues. Now, more than ever, businesses need to consider their infrastructure’s security. After all, a pandemic of this caliber only makes it easier for cybercriminals to cash-in on a scrambling organization’s vulnerabilities.

To further protect our clients and thwart off cybercriminals during this unfortunate epidemic, we have begun deploying SentinelOne, a service designed to identify and prevent cyberattacks autonomously.

How It Works

The SentinelOne Endpoint Protection Platform (EPP) focuses on protecting your business through the endpoints, or more plainly, any device that is physically an ‘endpoint’ on a network; i.e., laptops, desktops, or servers.

A single agent, or program, is installed on all workstations and servers that will detect and prevent attacks. However, rather than using signatures, S1 focuses on behavior blocking through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. Because of this, the platform is able to prevent malware from spreading along with autonomously removing files and revert hardware back to known states.

Additionally, being a cloud-based service, S1 is extremely scalable, making it particularly useful for protecting businesses looking to transition to a remote-based work environment quickly.


From the looks of it, COVID-19 is likely going to be with us for a little while longer. And while it may offer an easy pay-day for cybercriminals targeting scrambling businesses, counter solutioning to prepare for a secure remote-based workforce rapidly is available. In a time like this, there are always going to be mistakes and or risks involved with preparing. The security of your networks, hardware, and data, however, should not be one of them.