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Masks and Respirators Overview

Medical facemasks, commonly known as surgical masks, and respirators are considered Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) that are intended to protect the wearer from large droplets and sprays (facemasks) and smaller airborne, respirable particles (respirators). 


The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), both under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is tasked with keeping occupational workers from all industries, including healthcare, protected from workplace injury and illness.  PPE of all types are important tools needed to fulfill their mission.  NIOSH sets standards and certifications for all respiratory protection devices, intended to protect the wearer from respirable workplace threats.


Surgical masks, and very few “surgical respirators” are cleared and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as medical devices intended to prevent transmission of infectious disease from the wearer to others and to protect the wearer from infection.  Both the FDA and the CDC fall under the umbrella of HHS. 

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