April 16, 2020

NIOSH Creates “PAPR100” Class of Respirator

An interim final rule published by NIOSH April 14 in the Federal Register creates a new class of powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) that may be better suited to the needs of workers in the healthcare and public safety industries who require protection from COVID-19, according to an agency press release.

Because they are designed to filter chemicals, bloodborne pathogens, and aerosol-transmissible diseases, PAPRs with high-efficiency filters, which NIOSH designates as PAPR class HE, are often used in high-hazard procedures in healthcare settings. However, the size and weight of current PAPR HE devices is considered to be an impediment to their wider adoption in healthcare.

To achieve NIOSH approval for PAPR class HE, a device must pass a silica dust loading test. This requirement, established in 1972, was intended to ensure the device could meet the needs of workers in industrial environments such as mining and milling operations. To provide enough airflow to pass the silica dust test, PAPRs need batteries and fans, which increases their size and weight. The new “PAPR100” class of respirator created by the NIOSH rule would replace the silica dust test with aerosol tests, which would allow for smaller, lighter designs.

NIOSH expects the addition of new PAPRs to the marketplace to help alleviate the strain on respirator supplies in healthcare facilities, many of which are running low on N95 particulate filtering facepiece respirators during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to NIOSH, PAPRs have several advantages over N95s. Unlike N95s, PAPRs are reusable, and have a higher assigned protection factor as determined by OSHA. Loose-fitting PAPRs do not need to be fit tested and can often be worn with facial hair.

The NIOSH interim final rule also eliminates archaic sections of 42 CFR Part 84, Approval of Respiratory Protective Devices, and consolidates all requirements for air-purifying particulate respirators, both powered and non-powered, into subpart K.

Although the NIOSH interim final rule goes into effect immediately, the agency is accepting comments through August 12. For information on submitting comments and a full discussion of the interim final rule, see the notice in the Federal Register.