What Is the Best Mask for Wildfire Smoke?

Posted by PK Safety Team on Jul 10th 2019

What Is the Best Mask for Wildfire Smoke?

As the AB1124 California Bill goes into effect, we’re taking a moment to talk about what employers should look for in a respirator or face mask. The bill requires employers to provide N95 rated respirators (at a minimum) to all their employees working outdoors during a wildfire. Wildfire smoke can irritate a person’s eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, and it can cause cancer, heart disease and even lead to death. N95 respirators protect individuals from some of the particulates present in wildfire smoke, but not all face masks for wildfire are made equal. Some masks will work better than others in certain industries and work situations.

Learn more about what to look for in a face mask, so you can better protect your employees during an active wildfire.

Choosing the Proper Size and Design

The N95 designation assures you that the mask has met certain design and performance standards. These masks are commonly used, and are readily available. Consider an N95 rated mask as the minimum level of protection.

When choosing a face mask to protect your employees during an active wildfire, look for masks with two straps instead of just one. The two straps ensure the mask will stay on the person’s face without moving or shifting around. Masks with one strap often slide around, exposing the worker to toxic wildfire smoke. One strap goes above the ear and the other just below the ear to keep the mask secure and in one place.

The respirator should also fit over the person’s entire nose and chin, leaving no part of their mouth or nose exposed to wildfire smoke. The mask should create a firm seal without any gaps to let the smoke through. The material should be flexible enough to contour with the person’s chin without being so malleable that it leaves them exposed to smoke.

Since everyone’s face is different, you may need to buy respirators in a variety of sizes to make sure everyone on your team can find a mask that fits comfortably over their face.

Keeping Workers Cool and Comfortable in the Field

You should also choose a respirator that’s made with lightweight materials to avoid weighing your workers down in the field. If the mask is too heavy, it could sag over the person’s face, leaving them exposed to smoke. Lightweight materials will also help you keep your employees cool in the field, so they don’t overheat or get too uncomfortable. The heat in California and other parts of the country can be a major concern for employers with temperatures rising above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If these face masks for wildfire smoke are uncomfortable to wear, your employees will be less likely to wear them in the field.

3 Levels of N95 Respirators

N95 respirators usually offer three different levels of protection, including basic, better and best. Learn more about these different categories and their unique features.

  • Basic

The basic level N95 respirators, such as the 3M 8210, feature a simple two-strap design for reliable protection against non-oil-based particles, including some of the the toxins present in wildfire smoke. These face masks are made with lightweight materials and can be deployed easily. This mask will meet the requirements of AB 1124.

  • Better

The better level N95 respirators come with a cool flow exhalation valve, a one-way valve that helps your employees exhale easily, promoting air change within the mask. An example would be the Moldex 2300N95. This helps your staff stay cooler at all times, but especially in extreme temperatures. When exhaling, your employees will breathe out through the valve without letting any outside air into the mask.

This respirator is designed for those that work for extended periods of time or those that work in extreme heat or humidity. Just like the basic level, these respirators come with two straps for a secure fit and they’re made with lightweight materials for a better work experience.

  • Best

The best level N95 respirators come with a pair of replaceable filters. This half-face respirator offers a better fit, with two adjustable straps that cover more surface area of the person’s head for a more secure fit. While the filters may be the same N95 rated style, the comfort, durability and fit are superior. This type of mask, such as the 3M 6000, in combination with the 3M 2071 filter is an economical choice that exceeds the minimum standards of AB 1124.

The mask features a hard plastic shell and soft cushion against the face. The plastic weighs more than the basic and better-level masks, but with secure straps, you don’t have to worry about the mask falling off or making your employees uncomfortable

Please also know that higher levels of respirator filtration is available, as only some of the toxins are captured in the form of particulates. Burning plastics, and who knows what else, throw off a witches brew of chemical vapors.

Keep this information in mind as you go about choosing the right respirator for your employees. For more information about face masks for wildfire smoke, contact the professionals at PK Safety