Barbara Nessinger, Editor-in-Chief
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of daily life. This includes the reopening of workplaces around the country. State and local standards/regulations regarding COVID-19 are varied and, in some cases, difficult to enforce. Of the OSHA standards that will likely be referred to frequently, respiratory protection will be at the forefront.
Industrial Hygiene in the Workplace talked with two different companies currently dealing with the COVID-19 crisis about OHSA’s respiratory fit-test standards and how this affects their businesses. Stephanie Lynch, Ph.D., is Product Manager for OHD, LLLP, a global company devoted to fit testing for respiratory PPE.
Jon Imms is Global Technical & Product Director for CleanSpace Technology, a maker of respirators with a specialty in “innovative and quality respirator design and manufacturing.” Although the companies for which they work make different products, their customers have similar needs—and, they both face the same challenges—especially in such unprecedented times as these.
Here are some insights from these two experts in their respective fields.
IHW: What aspects of OSHA’s fit-test standard do you see as most important right now? How is your company addressing the need to make employers and employees aware of its importance?
Stephanie Lynch: I think knowledge of its requirements and current exemptions, as they pertain to you and your industry, are most important right now. We offer educational webinars and blog posts, as well as email blasts to our customer base. We try to make sure our customers are up to date on the most current information for their respiratory protection program.
Jon Imms: The COVID pandemic has increased the need to ensure a facial seal for negative-pressure products. However, given the poor supply of negative-pressure products on the market, industry has been forced to use products other than those that they have been fit-tested on. As a result, OSHA has had to relax its requirements and allow the use of alternative products—without an annual fit test. CleanSpace is a Powered Air Purifying Respirator which is positive pressure. With a positive-pressure respirator, you reduce the risk of user contamination even with a poor fit.
IHW: Have there been many conversations/discussions with your customers about the need to train employees on how to fit-test their respirators? If so, what kind of training has been put in place?
Lynch: Yes; we offer extensive training on the use of both the Quantifit and QuantiCheck, as well as guidance on compliance to the best of our abilities.
Imms: The topic of correct fit is more prevalent than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, CleanSpace has always placed a high level of importance on the training of respiratory products to ensure compliance with the particular nuances of the respiratory products being used. CleanSpace provides a number of avenues to achieve compliance, with online video-based training and face-to-face, live online training.
IHW: How can you help end-users with hazard assessment for their respirator needs—especially in light of keeping workers safe from COVID-19?
Imms: All manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure that potential users of their products understand the benefits but also the limitations of their products. Not all purchasers of products make direct contact with the manufacturer, so any limitations regarding workplace hazards are clearly outlined in the various products’ user manuals. Where possible, we work with the end-users of our products regarding the hazards in their particular workplaces to ensure that the appropriate product is selected; however, the responsibility for the selection of appropriate respiratory equipment ultimately lies with the end-user.
Lynch: Many of our employees have worked in respiratory protection for years, and we are always happy to assist any of our customers with an assessment of the respiratory protection they need for the hazards they face, [including] COVID-19.
MAINTAINING & USING RESPIRATORS
The use and maintenance of respirators is also part of OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19. This includes fitting based on the hazard; consistent and proper wearing of the respirator; regular inspections, maintenance, replacement; and proper cleaning, storage and disposal, if needed. We asked Stephanie and Jon if (and how) this might have changed how they approach the end-users of their PPE:
Imms: It hasn’t changed for us. CleanSpace has always been focused on the correct use and maintenance of our products and provides a number of avenues to achieve compliance, again, with online, video-based training and face-to-face live online training.
Lynch: We don’t offer PPE, but the respirator manufacturers we work with are promoting many novel approaches, such as the use of reusable elastomeric respirators in healthcare and qualitative testing for filtering facepiece/N95 respirators to allow for reuse.
IHW: What, if any, respirator maintenance, inspection and replacement protocols or programs have you seen with regard to staying in compliance? Does your company assist clients with such needs?
Lynch: OSHA 1910.134 App B-2 lays out how to comply, and your respirator manufacturer can also provide you with guidelines. We can help customers walk through how the OSHA standard applies to them and their situation.
Imms: CleanSpace requires minimal maintenance. However, inspection and replacement of damaged or faulty product is essential to maintain respiratory protection compliance. CleanSpace provides clear guidance of the maintenance, inspection and replacement protocols via our user manuals and various training options.
CLEANING, STORAGE AND RESPIRATORY PROGRAMS
Cleaning and storage of respirators and respiratory equipment is more important than ever. This is covered by OSHA 1910.134 App B-2, and most manufacturers offer respirator specific guidance.
The American National Standard Practices for Respiratory Protection also includes sections on employer and wearer responsibilities to ensure that accepted, approved practices are upheld with regard to respirator safety.
IHW: How can you aid customers in establishing and administering an acceptable respirator program?
Lynch: We provide and sponsor training and materials on respiratory protection and program administration. Most recently, we gave a webinar called “Safely (Re)Implementing your Respiratory Protection Program,” and we sponsored a webinar on “Respiratory Protection Programs –Maintaining Your Program in Uncharted Waters.” IHW