Ask the expert: Voluntary use of N95 respirators

By: October 23rd, 2009 Email This Post Print This Post

Q: A worker who is not exposed to H1N1 influenza patients wants to wear an N95 respirator. We are not opposed to this but wonder what we must do for OSHA compliance? Normally her duties would not require her to be part of our respiratory protection plan.

A: According to OSHA’s Respiratory Protection eTool, when an employers allows their employees to wear respirators on a voluntary basis when not required by OSHA, only limited provisions of a respiratory protection program is required. In the case of an N95 respirator, which is a filtering face piece type,  the employee must be provided with a copy of Appendix D: Information for Employees Using Respirators When not Required Under Standard. The appendix advises the employee to read the manufacturer’s instructions for selecting, using and caring for the respirator. Fit-testing is not required for OSHA compliance with voluntary respirator use.

For all other types of respirators used on voluntary basis, an additional written respirator program that covers medical fitness and proper maintenance procedures must be implemented, according to OSHA.

HCPro’s Respiratory Safety for Healthcare Workers: Prevent Exposure to Airborne Infections has more tips on OSHA compliance for N95 respirators. Click on the video clips below for a preview.

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By barbara kane on October 26th, 2009 at 9:29 am

We mix mitomycin c and bcg in our office. Are we required to have a BSC and if so what type?

By Louise Simkonis on October 27th, 2009 at 7:02 am

We are an Acute Rehabilitation Hospital that does not have the capability for airborne precautions ( Negative Pressure room) and has been unable to purchase N95 masks, and without a Fit Test program as we do not accept or care for active infectious TB patient. What do you recommend for patient and employee safety in this upcoming H1N1 pandemic that I can use

By David LaHoda on October 27th, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Remember that the use of PPE–including N95 respirators–is just one, and indeed the last, in a hierarchy of controls recommended by the CDC and OSHA. The first is elimination of potential exposures:
“Eliminating the potential source of exposure ranks highest in the hierarchy of controls. Examples of interventions in this category include: taking steps to minimize outpatient visits for patients with mild influenza-like illness who do not have risk factors for complications, postponing elective visits by patients with suspected or confirmed influenza until they are no longer infectious, and denying entry to visitors who are sick,” according to Interim Guidance on Infection Control Measures for 2009 H1N1 Influenza in Healthcare Settings, Including Protection of Healthcare Personnel.

By Debbie Clark RRT, MPH on October 27th, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Remember that negative flow rooms are only needed for aerosolized generating procedures. Also, SHEA and the IDSA support droplet transmission and protection via surgical masks which is consistent with the precautions for seasonal flu. You alos might want to check with your state’s DOH guidelines which may differ from the CDC guidelines.


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