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OSHA memo allows for extended use, reuse of respirators


The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued additional interim guidance Friday on respiratory protection due to supply shortages facing the health industry and other workplaces.

The new guidance allows for employer discretion to permit the extended use and reuse of respirators, such as N95 filtering masks and use beyond the manufacturer-recommended shelf life in all workplaces, including health care facilities where personnel are exposed to individuals with suspected or confirmed coronavirus. This change was in response to a directive to the U.S. Secretary of Labor from President Trump to “take all appropriate and necessary steps to increase the availability of respirators,” according to the memorandum.

The interim guidance states that when extended or reuse of N95s is necessary, the same worker is permitted to extend use of the respirator as long as it maintains its structural and functional integrity and the filter material is not physically damaged or contaminated. The guidance also requires employers to address in their written respiratory protection programs the circumstances under which a disposable respirator will be considered contaminated and unavailable for extended use or reuse, and asks employer to pay particular attention to proper storage of the respirators between periods of reuse.

The memo also requests that employees perform a seal check each time they don equipment and urges employers to train workers on how to identify if a respirator is compromised and proper procedures for donning/doffing the equipment to prevent contamination.

The emergency authorization also permits the use of disposable filtering facepiece respirators that have been approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health but have passed the manufacturer’s recommended shelf life and asks that workers are notified about the expiration. However, the guidance says that expired N95s should not be used by health care professionals performing surgical procedures on patients infected with or potentially infected with COVID-19, or when performing procedures expected to generate respiratory secretions.

Despite these exceptions to prior standards, employers are required to make a good-faith effort to ensure workers use the most appropriate respiratory protection available and must continue to manage their respiratory protection programs in accordance with U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.

More insurance and risk management news on the coronavirus crisis here.








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