On August 28, 2020 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published “Understanding Compliance with OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic.” The document discusses the impact COVID-19 has had on respirator supplies and OSHA’s resulting temporary enforcement guidance.
OSHA’s enforcement guidance is only applied when there are circumstances beyond the employer’s control which prevent compliance with certain sections of the respiratory protection standard and the employer makes objectively reasonable efforts to obtain and conserve supplies. Employers are also required to explore options and modify practices and come into compliance once supply chain issues are resolved. The document stresses that non-compliance with the respiratory protection standard is still non-compliance, but the temporary enforcement guidance memos provide OSHA with discretion to refrain from issuing citations on a case-by-case basis.
Each temporary enforcement guidance has specific items that a Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO) will look for, but CSHOs will be looking for and considering documentation that shows an employer:
- Used strategies to prioritize and conserve the use of N95s according to CDC guidance;
- Maintained a fully compliance Respiratory Protection Program in all other regards;
- Reassessed their engineering and administrative controls and work practices, and identified and implemented changes to decrease the need for N95s without exposing employees to additional hazards;
- Monitored respirator supplies and made objectively reasonable efforts to obtain NIOSH-approved respirators; and in healthcare settings, prioritized the best respiratory protection options available for use during high hazard aerosol-generating medical procedures;
- Explored options to obtain and use other types of respirators, such as P-100s, non-disposable, elastomeric respirators, and powered air-purifying respirators, as well as foreign respirators that are not NIOSH-approved but offer equivalent or higher protection when N95s were not available; and
- Monitored fit-testing supplies and made objectively reasonable efforts to obtain fit-testing supplies.
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