OSHA Issues Guidance for Respiratory Protection During N95 Shortage Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

OSHA Issues Guidance for Respiratory Protection During N95 Shortage Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

In a new memorandum, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued interim enforcement guidance to help combat supply shortages of disposable N95 filtering facepiece respirators (N95 FFRs) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of the limited supplies of N95 FFRs, OSHA is asking employers to assess their work operations and to consider any engineering controls, administrative controls and work practices that can be utilized to decrease the need for N95 respirators.  For example, employers should consider whether it is possible to increase the use of wet methods or portable local exhaust systems or to move operations outdoors. In some instances, an employer may also consider taking steps to temporarily suspend certain non-essential operations.

In the event respiratory protection must be used, employers may consider use of alternative classes of respirators that provide equal or greater protection compared to an N95 FFR, such as National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved, non-disposable, elastomeric respirators or powered, air-purifying respirators. When these alternatives are not available, or where their use creates additional safety or health hazards, employers may consider the extended use or reuse of N95 FFRs, or use of N95 FFRs that were approved but have since passed the manufacturer’s recommended shelf life, under specified conditions.

All employers whose employees are required to use or are permitted voluntary use of respiratory protection must continue to manage their respiratory protection programs in accordance with the OSHA respirator standard and should pay close attention to shortages of N95s during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This guidance applies in all industries, including workplaces in which:

  • Healthcare personnel (HCP) are exposed to patients with suspected or confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and other sources of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).
  • Protection of workers exposed to other respiratory hazards is impacted by the shortage resulting from the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This interim guidance has taken effect immediately and will remain in effect until further notice. This guidance is intended to be time-limited to the current public health crisis. Visit OSHA’s Coronavirus webpage regularly for updates.

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