N95 respirators and surgical masks are examples of personal protective equipment that are used to protect the wearer from particles or from liquid contaminating the face. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also regulates N95 respirators. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates entities for compliance with worker safety rules and OSHA standards, including, for example, the proper use of respirators in different work environments.
It is important to recognize that the optimal way to prevent transmission of microorganisms, such as viruses, is to use a combination of interventions from across the hierarchy of controls, not just PPE alone.COVID-19 Resources on Respirators and Masks.
A face mask is a product that covers the wearer’s nose and mouth. Face masks are for use as source control by the general public and health care personnel (HCP) in accordance with CDC recommendations, and are not personal protective equipment. Face masks may or may not meet any fluid barrier or filtration efficiency levels; therefore, they are not a substitute for N95 respirators or other Filtering Facepiece Respirators (FFRs), which provide respiratory protection to the wearer, or for surgical masks, which provide fluid barrier protection to the wearer.
A barrier face covering, as described in ASTM F3502-21, is a product worn on the face specifically covering at least the wearer’s nose and mouth, with the primary purpose of providing source control and to provide a degree of particulate filtration to reduce the amount of inhaled particulate material. Barrier face coverings are not a substitute for N95 respirators and other Filtering Facepiece Respirators (FFRs), which provide respiratory protection to the wearer, or for surgical masks, which provide fluid barrier and particulate material protection to the wearer.
Barrier face coverings may be made from a variety of materials that are not flammable. By definition, a barrier face covering should meet the particulate filtration efficiency, airflow resistance, and leakage assessment recommendations as described in ASTM F3502-21.
A surgical mask is a loose-fitting, disposable device that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants in the immediate environment. Surgical masks are regulated under 21 CFR 878.4040. Surgical masks are not to be shared and may be labeled as surgical, isolation, dental, or medical procedure masks. They may come with or without a face shield. These are sometimes referred to as face masks, as described above, although not all face masks are regulated as surgical masks.
Surgical masks are made in different thicknesses and with different ability to protect you from contact with liquids. These properties may also affect how easily you can breathe through the face mask and how well the surgical mask protects you.
If worn properly, a surgical mask is meant to help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter that may contain germs (viruses and bacteria), keeping it from reaching your mouth and nose. Surgical masks may also help reduce exposure of your saliva and respiratory secretions to others.
While a surgical mask may be effective in blocking splashes and large-particle droplets, a face mask, by design, it does not filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs, sneezes, or certain medical procedures. Surgical masks also do not provide complete protection from germs and other contaminants because of the loose fit between the surface of the mask and your face.
Surgical masks are not intended to be used more than once. If your surgical mask is damaged or soiled, or if breathing through the mask becomes difficult, you should remove it, discard it safely, and replace it with a new one. To safely discard your surgical mask, place it in a plastic bag and put it in the trash. Wash your hands after handling the used mask.
An N95 respirator is a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles. Note that the edges of the respirator are designed to form a seal around the nose and mouth. Surgical N95 Respirators are commonly used in healthcare settings and are a subset of N95 Filtering Facepiece Respirators (FFRs), often referred to as N95s.
Importing Non-NIOSH-approved N95 Respirators
On March 24, 2020, the FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for importing non-NIOSH-approved N95 respirators. Under this EUA, among other criteria, the FDA accepted standards from Australia, Brazil, Europe, Japan, Korea, and Mexico who have similar standards to NIOSH. The FDA did not list KN95 respirators in this EUA because of concerns about fraudulent products listed as KN95s.
On June 6, 2020, the FDA reissued the two EUAs covering imported respirators by tightening criteria in the Non-NIOSH-Approved Disposable Filtering Facepiece Respirators Manufactured in China as well as in the Imported, Non-NIOSH-Approved Disposable Filtering Facepiece Respirators to not only include new language related to decontamination as noted above, but also to revise the Scope of Authorization with respect to which jurisdictions are included in the criteria for eligibility in both EUAs, among other revisions.
The FDA also issued guidance outlining a policy to help expand the availability of general use face masks during this pandemic. Face masks may also be authorized for use as source control (for example, not as PPE) under the Face Mask umbrella EUA if certain criteria are met.
The FDA has adjusted its import screening to further expedite imports of legitimate products and is continually monitoring its import systems to prevent and mitigate any potential issues. The FDA is ready and available to engage with importers to minimize disruptions during the importing process.
The FDA recognizes that the need by healthcare providers and personnel for personal protective equipment (PPE) such as surgical masks and surgical and isolation gowns, may outpace the supply during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.
The FDA is collaborating with manufacturers of personal protective equipment (PPE) to help facilitate mitigation strategies related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
To help alleviate supply pressures, the FDA may consider expedited review of manufacturing site changes or premarket submissions—manufacturers of PPE (particularly surgical masks and surgical or isolation gowns) may contact FDA regarding plans to increase availability of these products to the U.S. market.
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