By Jared Rothstein, Senior Manager, Regulatory Affairs

April 3, 2020

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued new Enforcement Guidance for Respiratory Protection and the N95 Shortage Due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID19) Pandemic. This memorandum is applicable to all industries and provides interim guidance to Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs) for enforcing the Respiratory Protection standard, 29 CFR § 1910.134, and certain other health standards, with regard to supply shortages of disposable N95 filtering facepiece respirators. Specifically, it outlines enforcement discretion to permit the extended use and reuse of respirators, as well as the use of respirators that are beyond their manufacturer’s recommended shelf life (sometimes referred to as “expired”).

This memorandum will take effect immediately and remain in effect until further notice. The memo notes that for:

  • Extended use or reuse of N95s: In the event extended use or reuse of N95 FFRs becomes necessary, the same worker is permitted to extend use of or reuse the respirator, as long as the respirator maintains its structural and functional integrity and the filter material is not physically damaged, soiled, or contaminated (e.g., with blood, oil, paint). Employers must address in their written RPPs the circumstances under which a disposable respirator will be considered contaminated and not available for extended use or reuse. Extended use is preferred over reuse due to contact transmission risk associated with donning/doffing during reuse. When respirators are being re-used, employers should pay particular attention to workers’ proper storage of the FFRs in between periods of reuse.
  • Use of expired N95s: In the event that N95s are not available and the employer has shown a good faith effort to acquire the respirators or to use alternative options, [as outlined further in the memorandum], CSHOs should exercise enforcement discretion for the use of N95 FFRs beyond the manufacturer’s recommended shelf life, including surgical N95s.

The enforcement guidance memorandum goes on to provide more specific information to permit the use of N95 FFRs under such conditions.

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