June 23, 2022

Tool for Estimating N95 Needs of Essential Workers Developed by NIOSH

NIOSH researchers have developed a spreadsheet-based tool for estimating the number of N95 respirators needed to protect essential workers in nonhealthcare occupations during a future pandemic. According to the agency’s June 2022 e-newsletter, this tool was developed in response to one of the “many lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic”: the need to have an adequate supply of N95 respirators for healthcare workers as well as nonhealthcare essential workers. Estimates generated through this tool “can help public health officials and policymakers prepare for future emergencies and plan for available N95 respirators for nonhealthcare essential workers,” says NIOSH. The agency states that the tool can also be applied to other types of personal protective equipment.

The new tool was built from one previously designed for influenza pandemics and incorporates information collected by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Occupational Information Network, or O*NET, a database of occupational characteristics and worker requirements information from across the United States. Using this information, researchers estimate about 85 million nonhealthcare essential workers could need N95 respirators during another pandemic spread through aerosol transmission. For a minimum possible scenario—a pandemic lasting 15 to 40 weeks, requiring one N95 respirator per worker per week—NIOSH’s tool estimates that these workers would need about 1.3 billion N95 respirators during the first 15 weeks. Estimates increase to 2.6 and 6.4 billion respirators needed for the first 15 weeks for intermediate (two N95s per week) and maximum (five N95s per week) scenarios, respectively. The tool estimates that a 40-week-long pandemic would require 3.4 billion respirators for the minimum scenario, 6.8 billion for the intermediate scenario, and 17 billion for the maximum scenario.

The sources and methods that NIOSH researchers used to develop the tool are described in an article in the journal Health Security. The tool may also be accessed for free in the article’s supplemental material.