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Saving Lives: Building A Better Face Mask

PITTSBURG, PA (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- They’re first ones on the scene and the first ones exposed to dangerous conditions, but when it comes to protecting those who protect us, the first line of defense is a device to cover the mouth and nose. Now, Scientists and engineers are finding ways to build better protection for the people who risk their lives for us.

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Being a firefighter is one job where you can see the danger in the air.

"Even though we wear breathing apparatus during a fire, there’s considerable exposure to smoke" Dave Hostler, Phd, from the University of Pittsburgh department of emergency services said.

--and one job, where you cannot…

The recent H1N1 epidemic drove home the danger of a rapidly spreading virus. A facemask offers a little protection. A fitted respirator provides more, but depending on the wearer’s face size and shape, it’s not perfect.

"If there are leaks, basically, gaps between where the respirator fits your face or sits on your face and the respirator itself, that's where air can leak in, and you can get exposure." Ron Shaffer said.

Ron Shaffer is an expert in workplace hazards-for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Shaffer, along with scientists and engineers are studying the best way to measure faces to help the next generation of respirators fit better.

Researchers measured the facial dimensions of four-thousand workers. Then inside the human measurement lab, they took pictures of test subjects from five angles, and used a mathematical program to create 3D images.

"You can scan a respirator, and scan somebody’s head and marry the two up. See how they fit on somebody’s face. Look for air gaps." Ron Shaffer said.

The scientists and engineers used the data to mold head forms into five sizes, small, medium, short and wide large, and long and narrow. Instead of one-size fits all, they say manufacturers can use these models to build respirators and face gear as diverse as the workers who rely upon them.

"Niosh" scientists say their research is useful for firefighters and first responders, but they do expect manufacturers to make the biggest changes to respirators worn by health care providers.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

Ronald E. Shaffer, Ph.D.
Chief, Research Branch
National Personal Protective Technology Lab (NPPTL)
Pittsburgh, PA 15236
(412) 386-4001

Ivars Peterson
Mathematical Association of America,
Washington, DC 20036-1358
(800) 741-9415

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Fred Blosser
(202) 260-8519

Mike Breen and Annette Emerson
American Mathematical Society
Providence, RI 02904-2294
(800) 321-4267

Lois Smith
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
Santa Monica, CA 90406
(310) 394-1811

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