OSHA issues long-care respirator guidance
OSHA issued respiratory protection guidance for assisted living, nursing home, and other long-term care facilities. The guidance focuses on the use of respirators while emphasizing a primary reliance upon engineering and administrative controls for controlling exposures, consistent with good industrial hygiene practice and the agency’s traditional adherence to the “hierarchy of controls.”
The industrial hygiene “hierarchy of controls” is a series of workplace safety and health interventions that begins with elimination of hazards, followed by substitution, then engineering controls, administrative controls (including work practices), and personal protective equipment (PPE).
OSHA has instructed its compliance safety and health officers in its area offices to exercise discretion in the enforcement of the respiratory protection standard during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The agency insists that workers wear respirators when necessary, such as when in close contact with a resident of a long-term care facility with suspected or confirmed coronavirus infection. Employees then must wear an N95 filtering facepiece respirator (FFR) or equivalent or a higher-level respirator approved NIOSH.
The guidance describes other source control measures, including the use of cloth face coverings, face masks, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-cleared or -authorized surgical masks.
Healthcare workers should wear such source control products or devices at all times while inside a long-term care facility, according to the agency, including in break rooms or other spaces where they might encounter other people.
OSHA told employers that they should reassess their engineering and administrative controls, such as ventilation and practices for physical distancing, hand hygiene, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, to identify changes that could avoid over-reliance on respirators and other PPE. OSHA reminded employers that the agency has temporarily allowed for some enforcement flexibility regarding respirators, including requirements for annual fit testing that consumes disposable respirator supplies.
The agency also reminded employers that when respirators must be used, employers must implement a written, worksite-specific respiratory protection program that includes medical evaluation, fit testing, training, and other elements of the agency’s respiratory protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134).
OSHA Guidance on Workplace Ventilation
OSHA has released guidance on how to ventilate offices to decrease the airborne spread of COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently said small COVID-19 particles can travel longer distances in enclosed spaces that have “inadequate ventilation.”
OSHA is instructing offices to “consider steps to optimize building ventilation.” adding, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning professionals can help offices ensure the building ventilates air efficiently.
The agency advises workplaces to ensure all HVAC systems are functional and filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value rating of 13.
OSHA also recommends offices introduce fresh air by increasing the HVAC’s outdoor air intake or open windows where possible, and to keep exhaust fans running at maximum capacity in restrooms.
Enclosed offices that don’t have proper ventilation can pose a risk to staff. A recent study on an outbreak in a call center in South Korea found that 44% of infected workers sat on the same floor, and almost all of them sat close together.
OSHA issues guidance to employers on frequently cited COVID-19 standards
OSHA has issued guidance and an accompanying one-pager to help employers understand which standards are most frequently cited during coronavirus-related inspections. OSHA based these documents on data from citations issued, many of which were the result of complaints, referrals and fatalities in industries such as hospitals and healthcare, nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and meat/poultry processing plants.
The one-pager and guidance document provide available resources that address the most frequently cited standards, including Respiratory Protection, Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, Personal Protective Equipment and the General Duty Clause. The one-pager provides examples of requirements employers must follow, such as:
- Provide a medical evaluation before a worker is fit-tested or uses a respirator.
- Establish, implement, and update a written respiratory protection program with required worksite-specific procedures.
- Train workers to safely use respirators and/or other PPE in the workplace, and retrain workers about changes in the workplace that might make previous training obsolete.
- Store respirators and other PPE properly in a way to protect them from damage, contamination, and, where applicable, deformation of the facepiece and exhalation valve.
- Keep required records of work-related fatalities, injuries, and illness.
OSHA is providing the guidance to help employers protect workers and increase compliance with OSHA requirements.
OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program offers no-cost and confidential occupational safety and health services to small- and medium-sized businesses to identify workplace hazards, provides advice for compliance with OSHA standards, and assists in establishing and improving safety and health programs. On-Site Consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations.