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OSHA Issues Guidance Amid N95 Respirator Shortage

Posted on April 06, 2020 by Roger Marks

Amid a shortage of N95 facepiece filtering masks In an enforcement guidance memo directed to its officers, OSHA recommends that employers facing a shortage of N95 filtering facepiece respirators, or FFRs, do the following: 
  • Reassess engineering controls, work practices, and administrative controls to decrease the need for N95 filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs); and/or 
  • Use alternative classes of NIOSH-approved respirators that provide equal or greater protection compared to the N95
The OSHA memo goes on to say that employers may consider extended use or re-use of N95 FFRs, but only when certain conditions are met.

Finally, use of expired N95 may be permitted when unavoidable. Use of expired N95s is permitted when the employer has made a “good faith effort” to acquire respirators, monitor and prioritize N95 use according to CDC guidance, and explore other feasible alternatives. 

Read OSHA’s full guidance here.

Read more: Coronavirus: Preventing Workplace Exposure 

What is An "N95 Mask"?

Filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) designated as N95 have been evaluated, tested, and approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The "95" means these respirators are shown to block 95% or more of very small test particles. Test particles used are about 0.3 microns in size. For reference, filtration size for a typical coffee filter is around 20 microns.

These filtering facepiece respirators or FFRs are tight fitting, and a seal check is required each time the respirator is donned (i.e., put on). Ideally, these respirators would be discarded after each patient encounter or contact, or when they become damaged, deformed, dirty, wet, or contaminated with blood or fluids. If the respirator no longer forms an effective seal on the face, or if breathing becomes difficult, the N95 should be discarded (ideally). 

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