Tips for Using N95 Respirators or Other Alternatives
- Make sure you have a written respiratory program that complies with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Respiratory Protection Standard. OSHA has published a Small Entity Compliance Guide for the Respiratory Protection Standard, which gives excellent guidance on developing your respiratory program.
- Make sure all employees using respirators in your facility have passed the required medical evaluation prior to using a respirator.
- Make sure all employees using respirators in your facility have completed the required annual fit test for each type of respirator that they are approved to use.
- Make sure you have completed the required annual training of all employees using respirators in your facility.
- Make sure you provide proper storage for all respirators.
- Make sure you have all required records in place for your respirator program.
Finding Alternatives to N95 Respirators
1. Are your employees using N95 disposable respirators only with essential tasks handling hazardous materials?If you review the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for the hazardous material your employees are handling and see in Section 8 (Exposure Controls/Personal Protection) a statement such as:“Minimum NIOSH approved N95 filter type dust respirators until engineering controls are implemented,” you are required to provide a minimum of a N95-type respirator unless appropriate engineering controls are in place. Choosing the proper respirator is essential for preventing exposure to harmful contaminants in hazardous materials. N95 respirators have two straps and form a tight seal to the face.
But, if your employees are using N95 respirators for other tasks that are not related to handling a hazardous material, a single strap dust mask may be a more appropriate choice.
2. Have you considered engineering controls?Good engineering controls, such as a properly installed dust collector, are a great solution to preventing employee exposure to hazardous materials. Although the initial investment is higher, engineering controls provide a good long-term solution where feasible.
3. Have you considered an alternative respirator?Although disposable N95 respirators are most likely the most commonly used respirator in our industry, there are other alternatives that might be available. Two common choices are a half-face respirator and a full-face respirator.
These types of respirators, although not disposable, offer excellent protection against exposure to hazards. They offer a tighter fitting face-piece to be used with disposable filter cartridges.
Facilities can also use a powered air-purifying respirator. This type of respirator uses a battery-powered system to pull ambient air through a purifying device and into the user's breathing zone.
Another type of respirator that is sometimes used is a supplied-air respirator. This type of respirator is connected to a source of clean, breathable air, normally an air compressor equipped with a filter and regulator panel capable of supplying grade D breathable quality air. A carbon monoxide monitor should also be a part of this type of respirator system.
Three possible disadvantages of the non-disposable types of respirators are: they are more expensive to use, equipment must be assigned to individual employees and they require more storage space.
What should you do if you can't find N95 respirators?
If your facility is having immediate difficulties sourcing N95 respirators for handling hazardous materials due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, in Nebraska contact your local health department officials for where your facility is located and inform the agency of your needs. If they are unable to assist, then elevate your issue to Nebraska's Emergency Management Agency.