March 16, 2020

OSHA Temporarily Adjusts Guidance for Respirator Fit Testing During COVID-19 Outbreak

OSHA released temporary guidance this weekend on fit testing N95 respirators before their use by healthcare personnel caring for known or suspected COVID-19 patients. The new guidelines are intended to promote healthcare workers’ access to respiratory protection in the face of anticipated shortages.

The guidance recommends that healthcare employers use qualitative instead of quantitative fit testing of N95 respirators. OSHA's standard on respiratory protection describes both forms of fit testing. According to the agency's temporary guidance, the use of qualitative fit testing will help preserve the supply of respirators.

OSHA’s new guidance also encourages employers to provide healthcare workers with respirators of equal or higher protection to N95s, such as N99 or N100 filtering facepieces, reusable elastomeric respirators with appropriate filters or cartridges, or powered air-purifying respirators.

In addition, OSHA field offices now have the option not to cite an employer for violating fit-testing requirements provided that the employer makes a good-faith effort to follow respiratory protection standards, uses only NIOSH-certified respirators, and follows OSHA and CDC recommendations to optimize N95 respirators, among other factors.

The temporary guidelines went into effect on March 14, and will stay in effect until further notice. More information can be found in the OSHA press release. Visit AIHA's Coronavirus Outbreak Resource Center for links to other guidance from OSHA, CDC, and the World Health Organization.