COVID-19, EHS Administration, Technology and Innovation

NIOSH Unveils Tool for Predicting N95 Needs

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently released a tool for predicting N95 respirator needs in non-healthcare workplaces. In research published in the journal Health Security, NIOSH researchers unveiled a spreadsheet-based tool for estimating the number of N95 respirators needed to protect essential non-healthcare workers.

The tool is available in the article’s supplemental material.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not recommend the use of N95 respirators as a method of infection control for non-healthcare workers. The CDC’s recommendations were updated in May 2021 to include N95 respirators for non-healthcare settings as supplies of N95s became more available.

NIOSH researchers identified essential non-healthcare occupations and the number of workers employed in those occupations. They estimated that about 85 million non-healthcare essential workers could need N95 respirators during another pandemic spread by aerosol.

Researchers looked at 3 possible scenarios for N95 respirator needs—1 N95 respirator per week, 2 N95 respirators per week, and 5 N95 respirators per week—for pandemics lasting 15 and 40 weeks.

Researchers estimated that essential non-healthcare workers would need about 1.3 billion N95 respirators in the minimum scenario (1 N95 a week) for the first 15 weeks, 2.6 billion respirators for the intermediate scenario (2 N95s a week), and 6.4 billion for the maximum scenario (5 N95s a week). The estimates for a 40-week-long pandemic rose to 3.4 billion for the minimum scenario, 6.8 billion for the intermediate scenario, and 17 billion for the maximum scenario.

The COVID-19 pandemic was declared over 116 weeks ago. NIOSH suggested that the tool could help public health officials and policymakers prepare for future pandemics and plan for N95 respirator supplies for essential non-healthcare workers.

If an employer requires its employees to wear NIOSH-approved respirators like N95s, the employer must implement a respiratory protection program that is fully compliant with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard.

New Jersey employer settles respirator violations

On May 31, OSHA announced a stipulated settlement agreement with Lakewood Resource and Referral Center Inc., operating as the Center for Education, Medicine and Dentistry (CHEMED) in Lakewood, New Jersey, to resolve violations of the respiratory protection standard. CHEMED agreed to pay the full proposed penalties of $273,064 for 2 repeated violations; abate the cited hazards; develop and implement a safety and health management system; and continue to comply with OSHA’s healthcare emergency temporary standard (ETS).

The agency cited CHEMED in July 2021 for requiring temporary nurses to wear respirators while performing COVID testing without first medically evaluating their ability to use respirators and performing fit testing. OSHA had cited CHEMED in 2020 for similar hazards after the company failed to protect staff providing medical and dental care from the coronavirus.

CHEMED contested the July 2021 citations and penalties to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, and OSHA and the employer now have submitted a settlement agreement.

“Failing to evaluate employees’ ability to use respirators, and to test to ensure the respirators fit properly, exposes employees to potentially hazardous conditions,” Richard Mendelson, OSHA’s New York regional administrator, said in an agency statement.

“This settlement commits this employer to correcting those violations and enhancing its safeguards for employees.”