Washington — OSHA is extending its temporary leniency on annual respirator fit testing to all covered employers, not only those in the health care industry.
According to an April 8 press release, the agency is directing its field offices to exercise “enforcement discretion” on fit-testing regulations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This guidance will remain in effect until further notice.
OSHA issued a memo March 14 stating the agency is allowing health care employers to suspend annual fit testing, in large part, to contend with a nationwide shortage of N95 filtering facepiece respirators.
Employers must still make “good-faith efforts” to comply with OSHA’s respiratory protection regulations, among other steps, including communicating to workers whether annual fit testing is suspended temporarily. The agency also is asking organizations to look at their engineering controls, work practices and administrative controls for any changes that could decrease the need for N95s or other filtering facepiece respirators. Among the suggestions are increasing the use of wet methods, use of portable local exhaust systems, moving work outdoors or suspending non-essential operations.
In response to concerns about a shortage of fit-testing kits and test solutions, OSHA advises employers to reserve fit-testing equipment for workers using respirators for “high-hazard procedures.” Field offices are asked to perform additional enforcement discretion if an employer switches a worker’s respirator to an equivalent-fitting make/model/style/size N95 or other filtering facepiece respirator without performing an initial fit test.
“In the absence of fit-testing capabilities, if a user’s respirator model is out of stock, employers should consult the manufacturer to see if it recommends a different model that fits similarly to the model used previously by employees,” the release states.
OSHA issued two memos April 3 to try to help with the N95 shortage. One allowed for the reuse of N95 respirators and the use of expired N95s in certain cases. The other allowed for the use of filtering facepiece respirators and air-purifying elastomeric respirators certified by other countries or jurisdictions.