Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Coronavirus Update 6-8-2021: OSHA updates employers of N95 use

OSHA recently provided employers an update on the proper use of N95 masks, including a new video, poster (in English and Spanish), and FAQ (which makes is clear that "an N95 respirator is effective in protecting workers from the virus that causes COVID-19).

The video and poster demonstrate and describe seven steps every worker should follow when putting on and taking off a respirator (which includes an N95).

  1. Wash hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol before putting on and after removing the respirator;
  2. Inspect the respirator for damage;
  3. Cover mouth and nose with the respirator and pull strap over the head so that it rests at the back of the head. A second strap should rest at the back of the neck. Use the metal nose clips to mold the respirator to the shape of the nose;
  4. Adjust the respirator by placing both hands over it and inhaling and exhaling. Readjust the straps if air leaks from the respirator's edges;
  5. Avoid touching the respirator while wearing it;
  6. Remove the respirator by grabbing the strap(s) from behind. Do not touch the front; and
  7. If the respirator does not need to be reused because of supply shortages, discard it in a closed-bin waste receptacle.
Two important points to remember about N95 masks.

1/ N95s are NIOSH-approved respirators; KN95s (differentiated with the "K" to designate that they meet Chinese, but not American, standards) are not. Thus, if you are requiring N95 respirators for your employees, do not confuse them with non-NIOSH-approved KN95s, which are not OSHA regulated. Further, if employees must wear a respirator while working, a KN95 will not qualify. 

2/ N95 respirators only provide the expected protection when used correctly. When required, N95s must be used as part of a comprehensive, written respiratory protection program that meets the requirements of OSHA's Respiratory Protection standard. The program should include medical evaluations, training, and fit testing. Otherwise, you are committing an OSHA violation.