Respirators are worn by healthcare workers as protection against airborne viruses. The N95 respirator is the most common of the seven types of particulate filtering facepiece respirators. It filters at least 95% of airborne particles but is not resistant to oil. N95 respirators which are approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and also are cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are referred to as “surgical N95 respirators.” Additional information about the respirator is available on the CDC NIOSH website. Other types of respirators are available to healthcare workers during the COVID-19 emergency. The FDA issued emergency use authorizations for NIOSH-approved, non-FDA cleared respirators such as elastomerics, another type of tight-fitting respirator.
In any workplace where respirators are necessary to protect the health of employees or when they are required by the employer, Cal/OSHA requires an employer to have a written respirator protection program, to provide staff training and to have staff fit tested. Initial and annual fit testing are required.
The applicable Cal/OSHA regulations are Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (Section 5199) and Respiratory Protection (Section 5144). If an employer requires an employee to wear an N95 or other tight-fitting respirator, then the following steps must be followed to comply with Cal/OSHA regulations:
Fit test kits are available for sale, and an employer may have one of the staff trained to perform the fit tests. Cal/OSHA requires employers to ensure that persons administering the qualitative fit test are able to prepare test solutions, calibrate equipment, perform tests properly, recognize invalid tests and ensure that test equipment is in proper working order. The requirements are similar if conducting a quantitative fit test. An alternative to training a staff member is to hire an industrial hygienist to conduct the fit tests.
When quantitative fit testing is performed, the employer shall not permit an employee to wear a filtering facepiece respirator or other half-facepiece respirator, unless a minimum fit factor of one hundred (100) is obtained. When fit testing single use respirators, a new respirator shall be used for each employee.
The employer must ensure that each employee who is assigned to use a filtering facepiece or other tight-fitting respirator passes a fit test: