Hundreds of thousands of fake respirators have been seized since the onset of the global pandemic,  opening the eyes of media, government and health, and safety pros.

With hospitals (nearly) falling victim to these scams, how can safety pros avoid them?

1.  Consider the full range of approved solutions, including reusable respirators.

The tight supply of disposable filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs), especially N95 respirators, is well-known, and reusable respirators are immediately available.
Reusable respirators are recommended by both CDC and NIOSH.  In fact, CDC states “When possible, NIOSH recommends the use of NIOSH-approved reusable elastomeric respirators and powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) as alternatives to FFRs.”

Reusable respirators, such as full-facepiece and elastomeric half-mask respirators (EHMR) are not facing the type of demand-supply imbalance seen in the FFR market.  Some EHMRs have specially-designed source control features. Employers should check if the EHMR has such features.  Powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs), while known to have a higher first cost have grown in use in workplaces due to their high level of protection, reusable components and because fit-tests are not required when used with loose-fitting head tops or for tight-fitting PAPRs in accordance with the COVID-19-related OSHA Enforcement Memorandum of October 2, 2020.

2.  Stay within the supply chain.

Choose a known distributor with a presence in your area.  Distributors with a history and track record of providing PPE, and other products, meeting relevant standards can be trusted to have researched suppliers for you.

Better yet  – ask questions! One important one is: Has the supplier provided documents, such as the NIOSH approval letter?  This letter is not only a part of the certification process  – it’s also a part of the federal regulation for respirators.  42 CFR 84.30 states that NIOSH “shall issue certificates of approval pursuant to the provisions of this subpart only for individual, completely assembled respirators which have been examined, inspected, and tested, and which meet the minimum requirements set forth in subparts H through L of this part, as applicable.”

3.  Check the Certified Equipment List.

Those wishing to “go it alone” should at least Check the NIOSH Certified Equipment List to be extra sure about the respirator.  This way, purchases can check the approval (formally, known as the “TC”) number.  This database also lists the year the approval was granted and some contact information for the manufacturer.

The Covid pandemic has brought new manufacturers of NIOSH-approved respirators into the market. Checking the certified equipment list can help a safety pro verify that these new products are legitimate.

4.  Ask for samples

for a qualitative check from employees who will be using the respirator. Recent reports note that fake respirators were stiff and not flexible. Qualitative fit testing is a way to make sure the respirator is comfortable to wear.  If the supplier is unwilling to send samples for your employers to evaluate, think twice.

5. Don’t be fooled by clever marketing terms

. A number of products now on the market incorporate the number “95” to draw similarities to a NIOSH’s N95 standard, or a mask supplier may state its products “conform to NIOSH standards.” Those who need to supply respirators to employees as part of an OSHA-compliant respiratory protection program should read the fine print on these offerings.

6. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Jobbers and others who have “found” a stockpile of respirators could be selling counterfeit products. Also, respirator manufacturers who were providing respirators before the pandemic have generally held prices steady.  And, if full payment is required upfront, there is a chance the sale is a scam.

7. Check the ISEA Buyers Guide

In the ISEA Buyers Guide, you’ll find leading respiratory protection manufacturers’ phone numbers are listed.  Call and double-check the lot and batch numbers.