One crisis facing healthcare professionals and other workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic is having enough PPE to protect themselves against the virus. OSHA has issued interim guidance to help address nationwide shortages of disposable N95 filtering face piece respirators (N95 FFRs).
The guidance advises employers to reassess their administrative controls, engineering controls and workplace practices to identify any changes that could lead to a decreased need for N95 respirators.
Where respirators are necessary, OSHA advises employers to explore other options for, such as NIOSH-approved non-disposable, elastomeric respirators or powdered, air-purifying respirators, which the agency says provide equal or greater protection compared to an N95 FFR.
In cases where no suitable alternatives are available, or if their use would create additional health and safety hazards, OSHA advises employers to consider extended use or reuse of N95 FFRs, or use of N95 FFRs that have passed the manufacturer’s recommended shelf life, under specified conditions.
In addition, OSHA has also offered guidance on enforcement discretion to permit the use of the use of FFRs and air-purifying elastomeric respirators that are either:
- Certified under certain standards of other countries or jurisdictions; or
- When equipment certified under standards of other countries or jurisdictions is not available, previously certified under the standards of other countries or jurisdictions but are beyond their manufacturer’s recommended shelf life (i.e., expired).
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. Such workplace respiratory hazards may be covered by one or more substance-specific health standards.
OSHA advises that during shortages of N95 FFRs, air-purifying elastomeric respirators, and compatible filters certified under the following standards of other countries or jurisdictions will provide greater protection than surgical masks (i.e., facemasks, other than surgical N95s), homemade masks, or improvised mouth and nose covers, such as bandanas and scarves:
- Australia: AS/NZS 1716:2012
- Brazil: ABNT/NBR 13694:1996; ABNT/NBR 13697:1996; and ABNT/NBR 13698:2011
- People's Republic of China: GB 2626-2006; and GB 2626-2019
- European Union: EN 140-1999; EN 143-2000; and EN 149-2001
- Japan: JMHLW-2000
- Republic of Korea: KMOEL-2014-46; and KMOEL-2017-64
- Mexico: NOM-116-2009
This guidance is currently in effect and will remain in effect until further notice, OSHA states. To learn more about how you can address COVID-19 at your workplace, visit OSHA’s coronavirus webpage for updates.
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