OSHA’s Temporary Enforcement Guidance on Respiratory Protection Fit-Testing
Many questions have arisen in recent weeks regarding compliance with OSHA’s fit-testing guidelines. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, employees who were required to wear tight-fitting filtering-facepiece respirators needed medical clearance and be trained and fit-tested prior to initial use. This occurred annually or whenever a different respirator is used (i.e. size, style, model or make). In response to the shortages of N95 filtering facepiece and all other tight-fitting respirators, OSHA issued a memorandum on March 14, 2020, providing temporary enforcement guidelines for OSHA Compliance Safety and Health Officers to uphold the Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134). OSHA field offices were directed to exercise enforcement discretion concerning the annual fit-testing requirement as along as employers:
- Make a “good faith effort” to comply with 29 CFR 1910.134
- Use only NIOSH-certified respirators
- Implement infectious control measures through engineering controls, administrative controls, work practices and use personal protective equipment
- Perform initial fit-tests for HCPs with the same model, style and size respirator
- Inform workers that annual fit-testing is temporarily suspended
- Train employees on proper equipment cleaning, storage, inspection, and user seal checks each time they respirators are donned
- Remind employees if the integrity of the respirator is compromised to notify their employer
- Conduct fit-test if any physical changes to the employee appears
That memorandum was specific to Health Care Providers (HCPs) who are providing direct care to patients with known or suspected COVID-19. On April 8th, 2020, the original memorandum was expanded to all workplaces covered by OSHA where there is required use of respirators. The expanded memorandum took effect immediately and will remain in effect until further notice.
Moving forward employers must evaluate their current programs and strategies to ensure that a “good faith effort” is being made. In order to do so, employers must:
- Explore all options to comply with the standard
- Implement alternative protections (i.e. engineering, administrative and work practice controls)
- Reschedule required annual activity as soon as possible
Any effort to become compliant should be documented in order to prove action was taken. This includes phone calls/emails to suppliers, or anyone who would perform the fit-testing procedure with employees. OSHA will take the employer’s “good faith” attempts into strong consideration when deciding to issue citations. Furthermore, OSHA plans to develop a program to monitor those who were found not in compliance upon inspection, but not cited, once activities resume to normal. Additional information and updates can be found on OSHA’s webpage at www.osha.gov/coronavirus.
We’ll continue to communicate updates as we receive them. If you have any OSHA or COVID-19 concerns, contact your safety advocate.
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