What’s the difference between NIOSH and CE?

In the world of respirator protection, the lingo can, at times, get pretty confusing.  Depending on where you live and where you work, you may be subject to different regulatory bodies and testing requirements on your respirators.  Sometimes these are government regulated entities and testers, such as OSHA and NIOSH or EN and CE, and other times, there are recommended certification companies that work in tangent with government bodies (such as CSA for CCOHS in Canada).  For this discussion, we are going to focus on the two major standards – NIOSH and CE. 

NIOSH vs CE certifications

NIOSH, and CE are different organizations and testing standards that offer certification or testing services for a variety of products. Here is a brief overview of each organization:

  • NIOSH: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIOSH conducts research and makes recommendations to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses. The organization also certifies personal protective equipment (PPE), including respirators and other safety products, to ensure that they meet certain performance and safety standards.
  • CE: CE stands for "Conformite Européenne" which means "European Conformity" in English. The CE mark is a symbol that indicates that a product complies with all relevant EU regulations. The CE mark is required for many products that are sold in the European Union (EU).
In summary, NIOSH is a U.S. government agency that certifies PPE and other safety products, CE is a mark indicating compliance with EU regulations.

How is NIOSH different from OSHA?

NIOSH and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) share a close relationship, as they were both created from the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2003-116/default.html#:~:text=NIOSH%20is%20part%20of%20the,and%20Health%20Administration%20(OSHA).). 

They both play important roles in ensuring workplace safety.  The simplest way to explain the difference is that NIOSH is the testing and certification arm while OSHA is the regulatory body.  NIOSH was intended to be an agency and act at the same level, but independently, from the CDC.  OSHA creates and enforces safety standards, while NIOSH tests and provides certifications to these standards.

How is CE different from EN standards?

In the European Union (EU), the European Directive PPE / 2016 / 425 / EU sets the standard, called EN Standards and regulates these standards.  CE is a designation that represents all testing requirements and certifications comply with EU regulations and EN standards. 

One thing that should reassure you is that both standards leverage segmenation of power in creating, testing and regulating the standards – this keeps one body, say NIOSH, from having too much control. 

What are the different standards of NIOSH certified respirator filters?

For NIOSH, if we focus solely on APRs, there are clear guidelines on the different types of approved filters and filtration ratings (for airborne particulates).  It can be broken down into two parts – filter efficiency and resistance to filter efficiency degradation. 

The three types of filter efficiency for NIOSH are 95%, 99% and 99.97%:

  • 95% Filter efficiency – these filters are rated at 95% filter efficiency. To get this filtration rating, a test on the filter must be performed and all samples must be tested at > 95% filter efficiency.  Typically, these filters are tested around 98% efficiency.  Some examples include N95 and P95
  • 99% Filter efficiency – similar to 95%, these are filters that have 99% filter efficiency. During the testing phase, the samples used to test efficiency must pass greater than 99% filter efficiency.
  • 99.97% Filter efficiency – these filters are the highest NIOSH rated filters for particulates – they are typically designated with a 100 number, i.e. N100, P100 or R100.

The three types of resistance to filter efficiency degradation ratings are N, R and P. 

  • If no oil particles are present in the work environment, use a filter of any series (i.e., N-, R-, or P-series). I.e., NOT Resistant to oil
  • If oil particles (e.g., lubricants, cutting fluids, glycerine, etc.) are present, use an R- or P-series filter. Note: N-series filters cannot be used if oil particles are present. I.E., RESISTANT to oil
  • If oil particles are present and the filter is to be used for more than one work shift, use only a P-series filter. I.E., oil PROOF.

When you combine the filter efficiency ratings and resistance to filter efficiency degradation ratings, you now have the basic standards and knowledge to choose the correct particulate filters for you. 

One example, N95, means the filter can filter out 95% of particulates that are not resistant to oil.  P100, on the other hand, means it can filter about 99.97% of particulates and is oil proof.


What are the different standards of CE certified respirator filters?

For airborne particulates, CE certified respirator filters actually simplify their respiratory filtrating rating into one rating categorization – P1, P2, & P3:

  • P1 – the lowest rating for particulate rating – it is rated to protect against course solid particles without specific toxicity and filters at least 80% of airborne particulates.
  • P2 – the “N95” equivalent rating – is rated to protect against solid and / or liquid aresols identified as hazardous or irritating. These filter at least 94% of airborne particles.
  • P3 – the highest rated particulate rating – it is rated to protect against toxic solid and / or liquid aerosols and filters out at least 99% of airborne particles.

For both NIOSH and CE, we are also have chemical filtration capabilities, which uses standardizing color coding systems to easily identify what type of chemicals a filter cartridge may filter out. 

Unfortunately, these color coding systems are different for each regulatory body.

For NIOSH, we have the following filtration types:

  • Organic Vapor – these are low level irritants and their cartridges will be color coded black.
  • Ammonia – these are filters tested to protect against ammonia and ammonia derivatives and their cartridges are color coded green.
  • Acidic gases – these filter acidic gases and have color code of white
  • N-rated particulate filtration – these filter out non-oil based particulates and are typically colored blue.
  • P-rated particulate filtration – these filter out oil-based particulates and are typically colored magenta or pink.
  • Combination Filtration – If you see yellow, it means the filter is rated against both organic vapors and acidic gases. If you see olive/brown, then this means the filter cartridge is rated against organic vapors, ammonia and acidic gases.

We created a chart demonstrating the NIOSH color coding system below

NIOSH filtration ratings color code chart

For CE, we have a little bit more details in their filtration ratings

They have color coding based on the types of chemical filters as well as a numbering system that determines the max concentration of each filter cartridge type.

For gas and vapour filters, CE has A rating for organic vapours with boiling points > 65 degrees Celsius, B rating for inorganic vapors, E is for sulphur dioxide and other acid gases, K is for ammonia and ammonia derivatives, while HG is for mercury, NO for oxides of nitrogen, AX for organic vapors with boiling points less than or equal to 65 degrees Celsius, and SX + the name of the chemical for filters with specific filtration capabilities.

Using the 4 first rating types, A, B, E, & K, you also get three different kinds of concentration levels:

  • A1 / B1 / E1 / K1 = low capacity and rated for max concentration levels of 1,000 ppm.
  • A2 / B2 / E2 / K2 = medium capacity and rated for max concentration levels of 5,000 ppm.
  • A3 / B3 / E3 / K3 = high capacity and rated for max concentration levels of 10,000 ppm.

Finally, we have the color coding system for CE.  The color coding system of each gas types from above are:

  • P rated (particulate) are color coded white
  • A rated (organic vapor) are color coded brown
  • B rated (inorganic vapors) are color coded grey
  • E rated (acidic gases) are color coded yellow
  • K rated (ammonia) are color coded green
  • HG rated (mercury) are color coded red
  • NO (oxides of nitrogen) are color coded blue
  • AX (organic vapors w/ BP < 65 * C) are color coded brown
  • SX (specialty filters) are color coded violet.

Currently, Parcil Safety uses the CE color coding and testing standard.  You can read more about our 40mm filter offerings and what each one specifically is used for at https://parcilsafety.com/pages/best-40mm-gas-mask-filters-guide-by-parcil-safety.

 Below is a little chart that better explains the CE rating and color coding system.

CE respirator filters color coding chart

How are NIOSH and CE respirators and filters tested?

This is another major difference between the two testing standards.   It comes down to whether you can test the filter separately from the mask or not.  With NIOSH, they only recognize them in bundles – that is, for example, for a respirator be rated N95, it has to be tested WITH the appropriate N95 filter.  Due to this fact, NIOSH tends to be slower at approving new NIOSH respirators.  Even if a respirator and filter set are both manufactured by the same company AND are tested to NIOSH standards, if they weren’t tested together, by wearing them together, you do NOT meet NIOSH standards.

For CE, this is not the case.  Each component, the respirator and filters, can be tested separately.  This allows for quick testing and provides the user with more options.  If you have a mask from one brand that has a CE mark and a filter set from another brand that has a CE mark, combining the two means you still meet regulatory requirements. 

Which standard, NIOSH or CE, should you go with? 

Although both NIOSH and CE are tested to similar standards and requirements, and both designate that they will provide you with respiratory protection, it mostly depends on what setting you are using the respirator for.

If you work in the US and need a respirator due to your job, and your insurance policy is governed by OSHA, then you will need to purchase a NIOSH respirator.  If you work in the EU and are governed by EN standards, then you will need a respirator with a CE mark.   

If you are looking for a respirator for home improvement or personal use and are just taking preventative steps to protect yourself, then you can go with either one – CE marked or NIOSH marked respirator masks. 

If you need help determining your next respirator purchase, reach out to one of our expert fitters at service@parcilsafety.com!

You can shop our Parcil Safety respirators below or check out our article about different respirators for different jobs HERE!


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