September 7, 2023

NAS Workshop Proceedings Examines PPE Standards, Supply Chains

The proceedings of a workshop that discussed the role of standards in supply chains for personal protective equipment and technology is now available from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS). The virtual workshop, held in March, brought together a wide range of experts to discuss innovative approaches to updating the standardization system for PPE and PPT in the United States. The workshop examined issues that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic including problems affecting the availability of N95 filtering facepiece respirators and other problems identified through work conducted as part of the National Strategy for a Resilient Public Health Supply Chain (PDF).

Presenters at the workshop observed that when demand for respirators dramatically increased in early 2020, many organizations had not stockpiled respirators and had divergent practices for respirator use. For example, some healthcare organizations required users to throw respirators away after every patient visit while others instituted extended reuse practices. A representative from a respirator manufacturing company explained that manufacturers operating on just-in-time delivery models did not possess large stockpiles for meeting high demand. Ramping up production required significant increases in workers and quantities of raw materials. The speaker said that NIOSH’s role as the entity that evaluates not only respirator performance but also manufacturers’ plans, user instructions, and packaging was crucial in helping companies set priorities and increase capacity. Other speakers called for extending the kind of PPE guidance provided for healthcare organizations to other occupations and the public.

As explained in the proceedings, the Resilient Public Health Supply Chain Task Force had previously identified gaps in standards related to PPE fit, the interface of different types of PPE that work together as ensembles, the measurement of a respirator’s effectiveness for source control, and guidance for the selection, use, and care of PPE, including cleaning, disinfection, decontamination, storage, and reuse. Additional needs identified during the workshop include harmonization of standards around the world to enable better design of PPE, the ability to rapidly scale manufacturing in emergencies, and standards for the design of PPE for a wide range of users, including children.

A PDF of the proceedings can be downloaded for free from the NAS website. Observations from workshop participants are also available online.