OSHA guidance for healthcare on decontaminating N95 respirators for reuse

OSHA outlined options for healthcare employers to decontaminate and reuse N95 respirators.

Posted April 29, 2020

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued interim enforcement guidance on reusing disposable N95 filtering face piece respirators that have been decontaminated. The guidance applies to workplaces where workers need respirators to protect against exposure to infectious agents that could be inhaled into the respiratory system, including during care of patients with suspected or confirmed coronavirus and other activities that could result in respiratory exposure to the virus.

If respiratory protection must be used, and acceptable alternatives are not available, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has identified research that suggests the following methods offer the most promise for decontaminating these respirators:

  • Vaporous hydrogen peroxide;
  • Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation; and/or
  • Moist heat (i.e., using an oven).

If the methods above are not available, microwave-generated steam or liquid hydrogen peroxide could also be suitable.

The following methods are not considered acceptable unless objective data that sufficiently demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of such methods become available:

  • Autoclaving;
  • Dry heat;
  • Isopropyl alcohol;
  • Soap;
  • Dry microwave irradiation;
  • Chlorine bleach;
  • Disinfectant wipes, regardless of impregnation (i.e., chemical saturation); and/or
  • Ethylene oxide.

Because of the potential for decontamination methods to affect respirator fit and/or performance, there are no NIOSH-approved methods. That is, decontamination voids the NIOSH certification for the respirator. Still, during shortages when other preferred alternative respirators are not available, filtering facepiece respirator decontamination and reuse may need to be considered as a crisis capacity strategy to ensure continued availability of respiratory protection equipment.

Employers should investigate the effectiveness of any decontamination method used for the specific filtering facepiece respirator model to be decontaminated. Employers should be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of any decontamination method used against the likely contaminant(s) (i.e., pathogens) of concern, and that the decontamination method used does not produce additional safety hazards.

This interim guidance will take effect immediately and remain in effect until further notice; however, this guidance is time-limited to the current public health crisis.

This article was written by Ed Zalewski of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

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