Department of Labor Enforces Healthcare Respirator Fit-Testing

The COVID-19 outbreak has left healthcare workers scrambling for appropriate and enough PPE for the virus. Now, President Trump has issued a new temporary guidance regarding the enforcement of OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard.

In the wake of COVID-19 anxiety, fearmongering headlines and daily updates, many are forgetting one major concern: healthcare workers desperately need virus PPE—more than the average citizen. However, with the rising case counts and virus spread, hospitals and healthcare centers are scrambling to provide workers with PPE like respirators, gloves and other equipment.

As of March 14, 2020, OSHA has issued a new temporary guidance regarding the enforcement of OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard. This guidance is aimed at ensuring healthcare workers have full access to needed N95 respiratory protection in light of anticipated shortages.

“The safety and health of Americans are top priorities for the President. That’s why the Administration is taking this action to protect America’s healthcare workers,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia. “Today’s guidance ensures that healthcare workers have the resources they need to stay safe during the COVID-19 outbreak.”

“America’s healthcare workers need appropriate respiratory protection as they help combat the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “Today’s guidance outlines commonsense measures that will keep personal respiratory devices available for our country’s healthcare workers.”

OSHA recommends that employers supply healthcare personnel who provide direct care to patients with known or suspected coronavirus with other respirators that provide equal or higher protection, such as N99 or N100 filtering facepieces, reusable elastomeric respirators with appropriate filters or cartridges, or powered air purifying respirators.

This temporary enforcement guidance recommends that healthcare employers change from a quantitative fit testing method to a qualitative testing method to preserve the integrity of the N95 respirators. Also, OSHA field offices have the discretion to not cite an employer for violations of the annual fit testing requirements as long as employers:

  • Make a good faith effort to comply with the respiratory protection standard;
  • Use only NIOSH-certified respirators;
  • Implement strategies recommended by OSHA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for optimizing and prioritizing N95 respirators;
  • Perform initial fit tests for each healthcare employee with the same model, style, and size respirator that the employee will be required to wear for protection from coronavirus;
  • Tell employees that the employer is temporarily suspending the annual fit testing of N95 respirators to preserve the supply for use in situations where they are required to be worn;
  • Explain to employees the importance of conducting a fit check after putting on the respirator to make sure they are getting an adequate seal;
  • Conduct a fit test if they observe visual changes in an employee’s physical condition that could affect respirator fit; and
  • Remind employees to notify management if the integrity or fit of their N95 respirator is compromised.

For more information about COVID-19, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage. For more information on the CDC’s recommendations for protection using various kinds of masks, respirators and other PPE, read OH&S “Coronavirus Has People Asking: Are Masks or Respirators Really Effective, or Necessary?”

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