March 3, 2022 / Abby Roberts

OEHS Professionals and Consensus Standards

This blog post is based on a presentation given at AIHce EXP 2021 by Andrey Korchevskiy, Mark Drozdov, and John Suter. It is the fourth in the “Essentials of Pandemic Response” series based on AIHA's recently publishedebook.

Consensus standards are helpful in crisis conditions because the slow pace of government decision-making cannot keep up with the unfolding situation. Consequently, getting involved in standard development is one way that occupational and environmental health and safety professionals can help during a pandemic and in other circumstances when public health is at stake.

At AIHce EXP 2021, Andrey Korchevskiy, PhD, CIH, DABT; Mark Drozdov, MS, SSM, FSM, BSI, RSO, CAI, CMA, GPRO; and John Suter, CIH, CSP, ARM; presented the educational session “Involving IHs in Consensus Standards in Pandemic Response.” This session was prepared by the AIHA Standards Advisory Panel (SAP) and designed to inform attendees of the role consensus standards play in practicing OEHS during a pandemic and, in turn, how OEHS professionals can participate in creating these standards.

“The pandemic will end. Consensus standards should stay,” said Korchevskiy, the past chair of SAP. “Hopefully, in the future, we will see even more potential for consensus standards to help us establish health and safety principles and conditions for workplaces and communities.”

The Roles of AIHA and Its Members in Standard Development

In the 1995 publication Standards, Conformity Assessment, and Trade: Into the 21st Century, the National Research Council (NRC) defines a standard as a “set of characteristics or quantities that describes features of a product, process, service, interface, or material.” NRC further groups standards into three categories. A de facto standard arises from uncoordinated market processes—it is not enforced, but it describes a common behavior practiced across an industry. A voluntary consensus standard arises when stakeholders such as product designers and producers, consumers, authorities, and experts agree through a formal, coordinated process, but a voluntary consensus standard is not enforced by the government.

A mandatory standard is enforced by government agencies but still often incorporates stakeholder input. OSHA’s national consensus standard definition covers standards that are developed by a nationally recognized standard-creating organization through a process “whereby it can be determined by the Secretary of Labor or by the Assistant Secretary of Labor that persons interested and affected by the scope or provisions of the standard have reached substantial agreement on its adoption.” The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) coordinates voluntary standards in the U.S.

Although AIHA is not a standard-developing organization, the association and its members can participate in standard development by creating safety recommendations and other resources that may later form the foundations of more concrete, widely adopted standards. AIHA members also represent the organization on standard development boards, committees, and panels. During the COVID-19 pandemic, widely accepted guidelines for COVID-19 protection and prevention, created by AIHA and other organizations, have contributed to the development of the voluntary consensus standard ISO/PAS 45005:2020: Occupational Health and Safety Management – General Guidelines for Safe Working During the COVID-19 Pandemic. However, guidance documents are created much more quickly than most voluntary or mandatory standards and through a more flexible, transparent process. It may take years for further pandemic-related consensus standards to be created based off current COVID-19 guidelines.

According to Korchevskiy, OEHS professionals’ role in developing and implementing standards is to understand the functions of recommendations, voluntary standards, and mandatory standards; learn about consensus standards relevant to their individual professional areas; help develop safety recommendations; and participate in AIHA’s efforts to influence the development of voluntary consensus standards. AIHA members can get involved as members of volunteer groups, representatives on standard-developing bodies, and members of SAP.

Korchevskiy then outlined SAP’s activities in 2020, which included reviewing nine standards, preparing and announcing seven calls for volunteers, and appointing 13 representatives to standard development organizations. SAP also developed an AIHA policy for consensus standards to help the organization be more efficient in times of crisis. As a result, AIHA representatives have contributed to the creation of ANSI Z10: Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems - Requirements, ISO 45001: Occupational Health and Safety, ISO/PAS 45005, and other well-known consensus standards.

The Development of ISO/PAS 45005

Mark Drozdov spoke on the development of ISO/PAS 45005, a consensus standard for safe work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Drozdov, who was then the chair of AIHA’s Government Relations Committee and is now the vice-chair of SAP, participated in creating ISO/PAS 45005 and ISO 45001.

ISO/TC 283, the International Organization for Standardization technical committee that develops standards related to occupational health and safety management, met virtually in September 2020. This meeting was attended by participants from all over the world, including Drozdov as a member of the U.S. delegation. ISO/TC 283 felt there was a need for international guidance on safe work during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the committee members voted overwhelmingly in approval of developing a standard, the eventual ISO/PAS 45005.

Where ISO 45001 was in development for years, from 2013 to 2017, the draft of ISO/PAS 45005 was started in early October 2020 and published toward the end of the following month. This standard was developed unusually quickly to meet the exigent needs of the global pandemic. ISO/TC 283 is now in the process of creating a standard on general guidelines for preventing and managing infectious diseases in the workplace.

The published ISO/PAS 45005 is influenced by previously existing standards. “The elements of ISO 45005 and its guidance for safe return to work follow the view of ISO 45001 on how all things—people, processes, policies—must work together to effectively manage risk,” said Drozdov. ISO 45001, in turn, was shaped significantly by ANSI Z10.

Like all standards, ISO/PAS 45005 is a work in progress that will be revised and updated over time. It addresses all the issues that OEHS professionals have dealt with during the pandemic, including suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases, psychological health, communication, hygiene, the use of personal protective equipment, and the difference between masks and face coverings. The standard outlines all actions that organizations should take during a pandemic, as applicable. Among them, the standard specifies that organizations should allow workers to work from home whenever possible, taking the same responsibilities for the health and safety of these workers as it does for those in a fixed, physical workplace.

Defining the term “workplace” for the standard’s purposes proved to be difficult. ISO/PAS 45005 accounts for workers who work from physical workplaces, from their own homes, from another person’s home, and while in transit.

Standards on Masks and Face Coverings

Following Drozdov, Suter spoke on the evolution of standards related to face coverings in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Suter is a member of ASTM Committee F23 on Personal Protective Clothing and Equipment and its subcommittee on respiratory protection. As a member of the subcommittee, Suter participated in developing ASTM International’s standard for face coverings.

As of May 2021, two U.S. standards for face coverings were available. AATCC M14-2020: Guidance and Considerations for General Purpose Textile Face Coverings: Adult was published in August 2020 by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC). ASTM F3502-21: Standard Specification for Barrier Face Coverings was published in February 2021.

International face mask standards also exist. In June 2020, the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) published CEN CWA 17553:2020: Community Face Coverings: Guide to Minimum Requirements, Methods of Testing, and Use (PDF). CEN CWA 17553:2020 is not an official European Union standard but a “Workshop Agreement” developed through an expedited process, but still contains valuable information. As early as April 2016, the Standardization Administration of the People’s Republic of China published GB/T 32610-2016: Technical Specification of Daily Protective Masks (PDF) to address the need for masks worn for urban air pollution, although they should provide some protection against airborne viral pathogens as well.

U.S. standards use the term “face coverings” in place of the more informal “masks” to refer to wearable barriers made of cloth or similar material primarily used as a form of source control, reducing the amount of viral particles and other aerosols that wearers expel into the environment. Masks or face coverings may also provide the wearers some protection from inhaling viral particles and other aerosols. They are distinct from, and cannot replace, NIOSH-approved respirators and medical face masks cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

While N95 respirators might have been the preferred form of respiratory protection for individuals with incidental exposures to COVID-19, respirator shortages at the beginning of the pandemic combined with the expense of purchasing N95s and the discomfort of wearing them led to the proliferation of less protective face coverings. ASTM F3502-21 explains that the intent of the standard is that face coverings “must be comfortable enough for individuals to be willing to wear them for long periods of time.”

Due to the surge in demand, a wide variety of commercially available face coverings made of a range of materials and with differing levels of effectiveness appeared in the early months of the pandemic. Suter referred to a study conducted by Duke University on the efficacy of different kinds of face coverings. The study found that some commercially available face coverings were almost as effective as a means of source control as N95 respirators or medical face masks, but many were much less so, particularly bandanas and neck gaiters. This indicated a need to standardize face coverings.

The two U.S. face covering standards have different but overlapping areas of focus. The ASTM standard is based on tests for filtration efficiency and inhalation resistance through the mask material, adapted from NIOSH’s respirator tests. Leakage around the face seal is evaluated by design analysis. The AATCC standard focuses more on fabric properties, with the ASTM standard also referring to the AATCC’s guidance on face covering fit and sizing. The organizations plan to harmonize their standards more completely.

The ASTM standard covers all sizes of face coverings and provides an option for using modified respirator fit capability tests to measure inward leakage and thereby help standardize face covering sizes. It also addresses retesting reusable face coverings after washing, user instructions, and product labeling. The tests required by the standard are not performed by government agencies; instead, manufacturers must self-declare that they meet conformance requirements. Testing must be performed by a lab accredited under ISO 17025: General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories. ASTM also developed a graphic to illustrate a commercial face covering’s performance regarding filtration efficiency and breathability, as determined by testing, to be used on product packaging.

AATCC’s standard currently addresses only adult-sized face coverings, but they plan to develop a standard for children’s face coverings. ASTM also intends to expand outreach efforts to manufacturers and users, address comments submitted during the standard development process, and potentially develop separate tests for evaluating face covering efficacy apart from those used for respirators. As of late 2021, ASTM had met with stakeholders and issued the first round of proposed updates to ASTM F3502-21.

ASTM has formed a Global Collaboration Forum for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to unify PPE standardization efforts. The forum has established an advisory board, held initial board and forum member meetings, met with partners in Vietnam and Jordan, and begun planning future activities.


Korchevskiy, Andrey, Drozdov, Mark, and Suter, John: “Involving IHs in Consensus Standards in Pandemic Response,” AIHce EXP Virtual Conference Presentation (May 26, 2021).

Abby Roberts

Abby Roberts is the editorial assistant at The Synergist.


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