What Are Elastomeric Half-Mask Respirators and How Can They Help You?
No matter what industry you serve, you’ve likely been impacted since COVID-19’s onset by the scarcity of N95 masks, commonly used in healthcare. But did you know that a number of other respiratory protection products have Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA),¹ and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) approval² to protect against COVID-19? A promising product is the elastomeric half-mask respirator.
Here are answers to some of the top questions you might have about these respirators.
What is an elastomeric half-mask respirator?
Half-mask, or half-face, respirators cover the nose and mouth. Elastomeric respirators are tight-fitting and are made of synthetic material or rubber. They are designed for reuse and can be repeatedly cleaned, disinfected, and placed back into service. Because their filters are interchangeable, these reusable respirators can use higher efficiency replaceable filters, including P100.³
Who can use elastomeric half-mask respirators?
As a result of the shortage of disposable N95s in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) temporarily authorized the use of elastomeric respirators in healthcare settings.¹ In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has recommended reusable elastomeric respirators as alternatives for most healthcare applications.² This includes members of law enforcement, firefighters, EMS providers, industrial workers in utilities and critical infrastructure, and government personnel at all levels.³
According to OSHA 1910.134 and Canadian Standards Association (CSA Group) standards, respirator use requires employers to have a written respiratory program. Provisions of this standard include the requirement that respirator users have medical clearance to wear a respirator and be fit tested to the size and model of respirator used.
Stocking up on reusable respirators to supplement your N95 stockpile is also a good idea for any emergency response preparedness plan, as elastomeric respirators offer flexibility for use in other national emergencies ranging from natural disasters to national security threats or other novel public health emergencies. Filter interchangeability is also an advantage here, as you can fit your respirator with a filter appropriate to a wide array of hazards.
Are elastomeric respirator masks reusable? And, what are the advantages of using them?
Yes! Elastomeric respirators are designed to be cleaned, reused, and decontaminated. As such, one elastomeric can do the work of hundreds, if not thousands, of disposable N95 masks.4 Because they can be cleaned and reused, they take up a fraction of the storage space, are economical, and, due to the fact that their filter cartridges are interchangeable, offer flexibility for use in emergency response preparedness.
In fact, Allegheny Health Network (“AHN”), in response to the supply demands on and increased costs of N95 masks during the COVID-19 crisis, developed a program to lessen its dependence on N95 masks by acquiring industrial elastomeric half-mask respirators with disposable P100 filters. The large academic hospital network found that, within one month, it was able to decrease the number of N95 masks it needed by 95%.5
Key advantages of reusable half-mask respirators include cost savings, the need for less storage space, and the availability of higher efficiency replaceable filters.
Download MSA’s “Reusable Elastomeric Respirators: A Highly Effective and Cost-Effective Option for Emergency Response Preparedness” whitepaper below for more information including the benefits of reusable half-mask respirators, tips for respirator care, and training considerations.
 United States Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/media/135763/download
 Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic.” https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3327pandemic.pdf
 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Reusable Elastomeric Respirators in Health Care: Considerations for Routine and Surge Use. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25275
 Hamby, C. “They Evoke Darth Vader, but These Masks May Save Your Doctor’s Life.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/27/us/coronavirus-masks-elastomeric-respirators.html
 Chalikonda S, Waltenbaugh H, Angelilli S, Dumont T, Kvasager C, Sauber T, Servello N, Singh A, Diaz-Garcia R. “Implementation of an Elastomeric Mask Program as a Strategy to Eliminate Disposable N95 Mask Use and Resterilization: Results from a Large Academic Medical Center.” Journal of the American College of Surgeons (2020).doi: https://www.journalacs.org/article/S1072-7515(20)30471-3/pdf