In the past week, OSHA has issued three additional (and temporary) enforcement guidance memos on the use of respirators arising from shortages due to the COVID19 pandemic. These memos follow up on the enforcement discretion memo OSHA issued on March 14, 2020 and permit the reuse of certain respirators and the use and reuse of non-NIOSH approved respirators under certain conditions. OSHA does not intend the guidance in these memos to be permanent.
Original Guidance Memo
OSHA’s original memo, issued on March 14, 2020, directed OSHA field offices to use enforcement discretion regarding the annual fit testing requirements as long as employers took a certain set of prescribed steps including:
- Making a good-faith effort to comply with the respiratory protection standard
- Using only NIOSH-certified respirators, and
- Implementing CDC and OSHA strategies for optimizing supply of N95 filtering facepiece respirators (FFR) and prioritizing their use.
The memo also stated that Healthcare employers may provide respirators with equal or higher protection, such as N99 or N100 filtering facepieces, reusable elastomeric respirators with appropriate filters or cartridges, or powered air purifying respirators (PAPR). Another recommendation is for employers to change from a destructive fit testing method (i.e. quantitative) to a non-destructive method (i.e. qualitative) to allow for the mask to be reused.
Updated Enforcement Guidance
The first memo published this week on April 3, 2020, titled “Enforcement Guidance for Respiratory Protection and the N95 Shortage Due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic,” addressed additional concerns not dealt with in the March 14 memo. In this memo, OSHA stated that it is permitting, in limited situations, the extended use and reuse of NIOSH-approved N05 FFR and N95 FFRs with expired shelf life as long as there are no alternative respirators available and employers take certain steps detailed in the memo.
The memo provides examples of situations in which N95s cannot be reused such as when its functional integrity and filter material are physically damaged, soiled, or contaminated. The memo also provides direct guidance on when healthcare professionals (HCPs) cannot use expired N95s such as when they perform surgical procedures on patients infected with, or potentially infected with, COVID-19 or when they perform or are present for procedures expected to generate aerosols.
OSHA then updated this memo on April 8 to address concerns regarding a shortage of fit-testing kits and test solutions. OSHA pointed out that most respirator manufacturers produce multiple models that use the same basic head form for size/fit and may have a list of their respirators with equivalent fit. As a result, if a user’s respirator model is out of stock, according to OSHA, employers should consult the manufacturer to see if it recommends a different model.
OSHA issued another memo on April 3, 2020 titled “Enforcement Guidance for Use of Respiratory Protection Equipment Certified under Standards of Other Countries or Jurisdictions During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic.” In this memo, OSHA announced that it was permitting the use of non-NIOSH approved FFRs and air-purifying elastomeric respirators that are either:
- Certified under certain standards of other countries; or
- Previously certified under the standards of other countries, but beyond their manufacturer’s recommended shelf life only if equipment certified under standards of other countries is not available.
The memo includes detailed guidance on how all employers should proceed with using non-NIOSH approved FFRs and how HCPs should proceed with using them. These include following all use standards found in the OSHA respirator standard, such as ensuring that users perform a user seal check each time they don respirators and to train workers to understand that they must discard the respirator if the structural and functional integrity of any part of it is compromised. The memo also reemphasizes that employers should make a good-faith effort to ensure workers use the most appropriate respiratory protection available for the hazards against which workers need to be protected. OSHA also published a list of respirators approved in other countries and their corresponding NIOSH approved respirators.
Expanded Temporary Enforcement Guidance on Respiratory Protection Fit-Testing for N95 Filtering Facepieces in All Industries During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic, OSHA Enforcement Memo, April 8, 2020.
Enforcement Guidance for Use of Respiratory Protection Equipment Certified under Standards of Other Countries or Jurisdictions During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic, OSHA Enforcement Memo, April 3, 2020.
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