OSHA Releases a Letter of Interpretation to Clarify OSHAs Standards for Respiratory Protection Against Covid-19 for Employees with Religiously Mandated Facial Hair

In an interpretation letter dated December 16, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) responded to the following questions concerning OSHA’s respiratory protection standard:

  1.  Can loose-fitting powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) be used as a reasonable accommodation in place of N95 respirators for employees who maintain facial hair because of a disability or sincerely held religious beliefs, where respiratory protection is required to protect workers from exposure to the virus causing Covid-19; and,
  2. If an employer provides an alternative respirator (e.g., a PAPR instead of an N95) to one employee, must they offer the alternative respirator to all employees and train all employees on use of the alternative respirator?

 

(1)  Yes. As explained in an August 5, 2011 letter of interpretation, the Respiratory Protection Standard permits the use of loose-fitting PAPRs by workers with facial hair in the majority of situations where respirators are required. In the context of exposure to the virus causing Covid-19, the Respiratory Protection Standard permits employers to provide employees with various types of NIOSH-certified respirators, including filtering facepiece respirators and loose-fitting PAPRs. Thus, an employer may provide a loose-fitting PAPR an alternative to N95 respirators where PPE is required to guard against the virus causing Covid-19.

 

(2) No. The Respiratory Protection Standard does not require employers to offer alternative respirators to all of its employees in cases where a limited number request an accommodation and it does not require employers to train the entire workforce on the proper use of the alternative respirator. However, employers must ensure that each employee permitted to use the alternative respirator is included in the Respiratory Protection Program and follows its applicable components, such as training in the proper use of that respirator, any limitations on its use, medical evaluation, and its maintenance.

 

Sources:OSHA Letter of Interpretation, Respiratory protection against COVID-19 for employees with religiously mandated facial hair (Dec. 16, 2021). https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/2021-12-16

Source: OSHA Letter of Interpretation, Respiratory protection against COVID-19 for employees with religiously mandated facial hair (Dec. 16, 2021). https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/2021-12-16