Respiratory protection Federal agencies

OSHA allowing reuse of decontaminated N95 respirators

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Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Washington — In effort to preserve the supply of N95 filtering facepiece respirators during the COVID-19 pandemic, OSHA is permitting the reuse of respirators that undergo certain decontamination processes, according to an April 24 temporary enforcement memo.

“The guidance applies to workplaces where workers need respirators to protect against exposure to infectious agents that could be inhaled into the respiratory system, including during care of patients with suspected or confirmed coronavirus and other activities that could result in respiratory exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the coronavirus,” an agency press release states.

OSHA cites NIOSH-evaluated research suggesting a handful of methods that offer the “most promise” for effectively decontaminating filtering facepiece respirators:

  • Vaporous hydrogen peroxide
  • Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation
  • Moist heat (i.e., using an oven)

If these methods are not available, microwave-generated steam or liquid hydrogen peroxide also could be suitable.

The following methods are not acceptable:

  • Autoclaving
  • Dry heat
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Soap
  • Dry microwave irradiation
  • Chlorine bleach
  • Disinfectant wipes, regardless of impregnation (i.e., chemical saturation)
  • Ethylene oxide

“Employers should investigate the effectiveness of any particular decontamination method used for the specific filtering facepiece respirator model to be decontaminated,” OSHA states. “Employers should be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of any decontamination method used against the likely contaminant(s) (i.e., pathogens) of concern, and that the decontamination method used does not produce additional safety hazards.”

 

Employers need to make “good-faith” efforts to provide and ensure workers use “the most appropriate respiratory protection available for the hazards against which workers need to be protected.” Workers and employers also need to ensure the structural and functional integrity of a respirator is not compromised.

As in other recent OSHA memos, the agency is asking employers to “reassess” engineering controls, work practices and administrative controls to decrease their need for respirators. Among the suggestions are increasing the use of wet methods, using portable local exhaust systems, moving work outdoors or suspending nonessential operations.

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