OSHA temporarily relaxes respirator fit-testing protocols
COVID-19Safety and Health
In response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced that it’s temporarily relaxing the usual requirements for annual fit-testing of respirators in workplaces where respiratory protection is required under existing OSHA regulations. OSHA had already done so for the health care industry on March 14, 2020. On April 8, 2020, OSHA issued new guidance which includes all workplaces covered by OSHA’s respiratory protection regulations. It gives OSHA compliance officers leeway to not cite employers who are unable to conduct proper fit testing, as long as they’re taking good faith steps to comply with the regulations.
OSHA’s guidance says you should reassess your engineering controls, work practices, and administrative controls to determine whether you could reduce the need for N-95 masks or other filtering facepiece respirators, since those are critical supplies needed by health care workers. If fit-testing kits are in short supply, then you should prioritize them for workers in high-hazard environments. If the normal respirators you supply to workers are out of stock, you should talk with manufacturers to see whether any similar models may provide equivalent protection. OSHA’s compliance officers have discretion to allow the use of equivalent respirators without performing an initial quantitative or qualitative fit test. The guidance is effective immediately and will remain in effect until it’s rescinded.
Tips For Employers: In states such as California, Oregon, and Washington which have their own OSHA-approved safety and health agencies, we anticipate similar guidance will become available. Oregon OSHA already stated in a March 23, 2020, memo that it won’t cite employers who document that it isn’t feasible to conduct annual training requirements or operator certifications that are due between March 1 and June 30, 2020. The memo also says that rescheduling annual respirator fit testing after June 30 is acceptable if it’s not feasible to conduct it safely during the current pandemic. This situation is evolving rapidly, so contact your Vigilant safety professional with any specific questions about respiratory protection in your workplace.