How to Don and Doff a Face Mask, N95 and Half-Mask Respirator for Returning to Work

How to Don and Doff a Face Mask, N95 and Half-Mask Respirator for Returning to Work

As workplaces begin to reopen, safety managers are working to ensure their employees have the proper face masks or respirators and know how to use them correctly.

Our current environment has introduced the need for face masks and respirators in non-traditional industries. As retailers, corporations, industrial operations and construction sites re-open, safety managers are working to ensure their employees have the proper face masks or respirators and know how to use them correctly. Since some workers are new to wearing face masks and respirators, it is important to review the proper way to don and remove to ensure the best protection for all.

If your worksite opts to use a respirator instead of a face mask, we must remember that the occupational use of respirators should follow a written respiratory protection program and meet all local government regulations. In the United States, employers must comply with OSHA 29CFR1910.134 and in Canada, the respiratory program must comply with CSA Standard Z94.4.

All programs should include evaluation, training and fit testing. Workers should have the opportunity to handle the respirator, learn how to inspect it, don and remove, have it properly fitted, wear it in a normal air environment and finally, wear it in a test atmosphere.

This piece will review donning and removing techniques for the face mask, N95 disposable respirator and the half-face mask respirator. These donning and removing techniques are not meant to be exhaustive. If you have questions, we recommend checking with your supervisor, reviewing the written respiratory program your employer may have in place and checking OSHA1 or CDC2 guidelines.

Face Mask

For most retailers and companies returning to work, there is a need to ensure employees wear face masks when in public spaces. The role of face masks in this case is to prevent contamination of the surrounding work area when a person coughs or sneezes. 

There are two versions of face masks: a mask with one or two elastic headbands and a mask with elastic bands that loop over the ears. When donning the face mask, users should follow these steps.

If using a face mask with one or two elastic straps:

  • If it has two straps, pull the lower strap over the head and position around the neck.
  • Pull the top or single strap over the head and position so it is on the crown (top) of your head.
  • If provided, fit the flexible band on the nose bridge by pressing down so that it conforms to the shape of your nose.
  • Lastly, users should ensure that the mask is snug to the face and covers the chin.
  • To remove, pull the top strap off first and then the lower straps.

If using a face mask with ear loops:

  • Secure the loops behind each ear.
  • If provided, fit the flexible band on the nose bridge by pressing down so that it conforms to the shape of your nose.
  • To remove lift both the ear loops off the ears at the same time and then gently remove the mask from the face.

N95 Disposable Respirator

N95 respirators are tight-fitting respirators that filter out at least 95 percent of particles in the air. Please note that particle sizes vary tremendously. N95 respirators are tested by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to the most penetrating size particle, which is 0.075 microns, +.02. When properly fitted and worn, minimal leakage occurs around the edges of the respirator when the user inhales.

When donning the Honeywell DC300N95 Molded Cup disposable N95 respirator,3 you should follow these steps:

  • First hold the respirator in the palm of your hand with straps facing towards the floor
  • Next, hold the respirator under the chin with the nosepiece facing outwards
  • Then pull the lower head strap around the neck below the ears and while holding the respirator in against the face with one hand, place the upper strap above the ears around the crown of the head
  • Place your hands on each side of the respirator and move slightly right, left, up and down, to adjust the position of the respirator and achieve the most optimal fit on the face
  • Mold the nose clip over your cheeks and bridge of the nose to obtain a tight seal
  • Next, perform a user seal check by placing both hands completely over the respirator and take a few deep breaths and feel around the mask to ensure there is no air leaking out, indicating a good seal

To remove the N95, the user should start by holding the respirator with their dominant hand to maintain its position on the face. Then pull the bottom strap over the head and while still holding the respirator in one hand, lift and remove the mask from the face.

Half-Mask Respirators

In industrial settings, sometimes workers need to use a half-mask respirator that is designed to minimize breathing of airborne contaminants. Users should always inspect a half-mask respirator before each use. If any parts are missing or damaged, replace those parts or the entire mask. If you are using a replaceable particulate filter, make sure the pad filter is in the filter cover and facing the correct direction. Then thread the filter assemblies onto the cartridge connectors. If you are not using the replaceable filter, but using the cartridge instead, simply thread the cartridge onto the cartridge connectors in the facepiece.

To don the half-mask respirator, follow the steps outlined in the manufacturer’s User Instructions for the respirator you will be wearing. The following steps are a general guide for one style of Honeywell half mask:4

  • Adjust the upper and lower head straps to their full outward position
  • With one hand holding the respirator, place chin inside the chin cup and the top of the respirator over the nose.
  • With the other hand, position the cradle suspension on the center of your head. Remove any slack in the upper straps by pulling the two end tabs back and towards the ears.
  • Fasten the bottom straps behind the neck, making sure it is under any hair. Remove any slack in the bottom straps by pulling the end tabs back towards the front.
  • Next, tighten the upper head straps in small, equal increments to ensure the top half of the respirator is tightened evenly and centered on the face.
  • Then tighten the lower head straps by pulling evenly on the end straps in the back of the respirator until the entire respirator is snug, comfortable and centered on your face

Once the half-mask is in position, exhale vigorously and then perform a user seal check to ensure the mask is in good working order.

To perform a positive pressure seal check, place the palm of your hand over the exhalation valve so it is completely sealed and exhale gently. If there is a good seal, the facepiece will be pushed away from your face very slightly. To perform the negative pressure seal check, place the palm of each hand over the two filters so they are completely sealed, and inhale. Hold your breath for five seconds. If there is a good seal, the facepiece will be pulled inward toward your face.

To remove the half-mask respirator, simply unfasten the bottom straps and then loosen the upper straps. Use one hand to hold the facepiece and lift the mask off.

These face masks and respirators are just a sampling of the types of protection that may be used more frequently as everyone returns to work. While this article cannot provide donning and removing instructions for every type of respirator, the hope is that this information can get most employers and workers off to the right start.

Every worker should familiarize themselves with the required respirators and additional personal protective equipment for their worksites. For more details, workers should speak with their supervisors about specific respirators, their employers’ written respiratory protection program and additional worksite requirements. 





This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

Download Center

  • Safety Metrics Guide

    Is your company leveraging its safety data and analytics to maintain a safe workplace? With so much data available, where do you start? This downloadable guide will give you insight on helpful key performance indicators (KPIs) you should track for your safety program.

  • Job Hazard Analysis Guide

    This guide includes details on how to conduct a thorough Job Hazard Analysis, and it's based directly on an OSHA publication for conducting JHAs. Learn how to identify potential hazards associated with each task of a job and set controls to mitigate hazard risks.

  • A Guide to Practicing “New Safety”

    Learn from safety professionals from around the world as they share their perspectives on various “new views” of safety, including Safety Differently, Safety-II, No Safety, Human and Organizational Performance (HOP), Resilience Engineering, and more in this helpful guide.

  • Lone Worker Safety Guide

    As organizations digitalize and remote operations become more commonplace, the number of lone workers is on the rise. These employees are at increased risk for unaddressed workplace accidents or emergencies. This guide was created to help employers better understand common lone worker risks and solutions for lone worker risk mitigation and incident prevention.

  • EHS Software Buyer's Guide

    Learn the keys to staying organized, staying sharp, and staying one step ahead on all things safety. This buyer’s guide is designed for you to use in your search for the safety management solution that best suits your company’s needs.

  • Vector Solutions

Featured Whitepaper

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - July August 2022

    July / August 2022


      Specific PPE is Needed for Entry and Exit
      Three Quick Steps to Better HazCom Training
      Building a Chemical Emergency Toolkit
      The Last Line of Defense
    View This Issue