Flammability of Respirators and other Head and Facial Personal Protective Equipment
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Flammability of Respirators and other Head and Facial Personal Protective Equipment

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  • Alternative Title:
    J Int Soc Respir Prot
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  • Description:

    Personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn by workers in surgical settings to protect them and patients. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clears some PPE (e.g., surgical masks (SM)) as class II medical devices, and regulates some (e.g. surgical head cover) as class I exempt devices. For respiratory protection, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved N95 filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs), and powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) are used. One type of PPE, “surgical N95 respirators”, is a NIOSH-approved FFR that is also cleared by the FDA for use in medical settings. The surgical environment poses unique risks such as the potential for surgical fires. As part of its substantial equivalence determination process, FDA requests testing of flammability and other parameters for SM and surgical N95 respirators. A lack of data regarding flammability of PPE used in healthcare exists. We hypothesize that commonly used PPE, regardless of whether regulated and/or cleared by FDA or not, will pass an industry standard such as the 16 CFR 1610 flammability test.


    Eleven N95 FFR models, eight surgical N95 respirator models, seven SM models, five surgical head cover models, and five PAPR hood models were evaluated for flammability with a 45 degree flammability tester using the 16 CFR 1610 method. Three common fabrics were included for comparison.


    All of the PPE samples regulated/and or cleared by FDA or not, passed the flammability test at class 1 (normal flammability), meaning they are less likely to burn. Only one of the three common fabrics, a cotton fabric at the lowest basis weight, was class 3 (high flammability).


    The results obtained in the study suggest that NIOSH-approved N95 FFRs would likely pass the 16 CFR 1610 flammability standard. Moreover, results suggest that NIOSH is capable of undertaking flammability testing using the 16 CFR 1610 standard as the flammability results NIOSH obtained for N95 FFRs were comparable to the results obtained by a third party independent laboratory.

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