OSHA is temporarily adjusting its respiratory protection standard during the coronavirus pandemic due to a shortage of personal protective equipment.
The agency said it recognizes that the shortage of PPE, especially N-95 masks, could prevent employers from complying with some provisions of its respiratory protection standard.
OSHA previously issued guidance to employers to address the shortage of PPE and filtering face piece respirators.
The agency issued several memos to its safety and health compliance officers that allows them to exercise enforcement discretion when considering whether to issue citations under the respiratory protection standard and similar provisions of other health standards.
OSHA said its compliance and safety officers should only exercise that discretion when circumstances beyond an employer’s control prevent compliance with certain aspects of the standard and the employer makes “objectively reasonable efforts” to obtain and conserve PPE supplies.
The agency also expects employers to explore options and modify practices to ensure workers have the best available protection.
This includes not using non-compliant respiratory protection when performing high-hazard aerosol-generating procedures.
Full compliance with the standard is expected once fit-testing supplies become available, OSHA said.
The public health emergency has increased demand for PPE—particularly N-95 masks and fit-testing supplies used to ensure that respirators fit and work properly.
This has forced many employers to do things normally not compliant with OSHA standards, such as extending use of disposable FFRs, decontaminating and reusing disposable FFRs, and using of foreign FFRs not approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Employers who do this must understand it increases risk for their employees, and that it may only be allowed during this public health crisis because having no respiratory protection is an even greater risk, OSHA said.
The agency will revoke its temporary enforcement discretions and revert to normal enforcement of the respiratory protection standard once it determines that the enforcement discretion is no longer needed.
OSHA stresses to employers that this temporary enforcement discretion does not offer blanket waiver or exemptions for complying with any of its standards and provisions, including the respiratory protection standard.
OSHA has a free workplace poster for employers on correct use of a respirator.OSHA4015-poster
For more information, contact CBIA’s Phillip Montgomery (860.244.1982).