Federal Study Recommends Expanded Respirator Protections

HR & Safety

There is a new recommendation from federal agencies to protect workers and the public from inhalation hazards. 

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published a Consensus Study Report that provides information and recommendations to effectively develop respiratory protections for multiple populations. 

NIOSH, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of State, and the CDC Foundation commissioned the study.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OHSA oversees respiratory protection programs in various industries. 

Workers undergo medical clearance, fit testing, and training about how to properly use a respiratory protective device as part of the programs.

Protections ‘Fall Short’

Since OSHA’s requirements do not include independent contractors, self-employed, and gig workers, the report found protections for these groups have fallen short. 

According to the report, the public has also become increasingly concerned about respiratory protections as a result of the pandemic and other natural disasters. 

“EPA research shows us that air pollution, such as particulate matter and wildfire smoke, airborne infectious agents, and other inhalation hazards adversely affect communities and at-risk populations,” deputy assistant administrator for science policy with the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, Chris Frey, said.

“Further, research demonstrates the effectiveness of interventions that reduce risk. 

“Thus, this research contributes to identifying effective practices aimed at protecting public health.”

Proposed Framework

Officials considered the challenges of implementing a program on a large scale when crafting the recommendations.

The recommendations are broken into seven core functions. Each one comes with a recommendation for the general public and a more specific recommendation for workers. 

Develop and approve respiratory protective devices:

  • Improve the timeliness and capacity of NIOSH’s respirator conformity assessment for expanded occupational use by using recognized consensus standards where appropriate and incorporating third-party lab testing into respirator approval programs
  • For public use, establish a way of overseeing respiratory protection standards development and an approval process for public use devices

Ensure adequate coordination and authorities to protect the target community from inhalation hazards:

  • Designate OSHA as the coordinating entity of the proposed framework for workers who are not currently protected under OSHA respiratory protection programs
  • Designate an organization within the Department of Health and Human Services to oversee public frameworks

Assess hazards and determine the needs for respiratory protection:

  • Establish comprehensive workplace exposure standards with hazard indicators to trigger respiratory protection program requirements for workplaces that don’t typically require them
  • Establish a standardized process for determining the public’s need for respiratory protection

Determine the necessary respiratory protective devices:

  • Recommend NIOSH-approved respirators for workers without protection programs
  • Use hazard and risk evaluations to determine necessary protection devices for the public

Ensure availability and access pathways for respiratory protective devices:

  • Evaluate worker protection needs to understand and predict the scope of the increased need for workers 
  • HHS’s coordinating organization should ensure the availability and access to devices by working with relevant stakeholders

Engage, inform, and ensure access for the target community:

  • Support guides and trainings for workers by expanding federal grant programs and other mechanisms
  • CDC should lead culturally appropriate training and guidance for the public

Incorporate lifecycle learning and continuous improvement:

  • Launch expanded NIOSH research surveillance programs for worker protections
  • HHS’s coordinating organization should constantly evaluate progress of public programming

For more information, contact CBIA’s Phillip Montgomery (860.244.1982).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay Connected with CBIA News Digests

The latest news and information delivered directly to your inbox.