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LEGISLATIVE INTERPRETATIONS

OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY ACT

Fit-testing N95 Respirators for COVID-19

Topic: Fit-testing N95 Respirators for COVID-19 Issued by: Director, Compliance & Regulatory Review
Statute: General Regulation 91-191 Date Issued: December 21, 2021
Section: 25, 45, 46 & 47 Date Revised:

Question 1: Is a NIOSH approved N95 respirator required for protection from COVID-19 and its variants?

Answer:

Current information on the transmissibility of the COVID-19 Omicron variant recommends using either medical grade masks or NIOSH-approved N95 respirators in the following circumstances:

  • When there is a high level of transmission in the community.
  • When a person has prolonged contact with others (on public transit, close contact with the public or co-workers as part of their employment).

The New Brunswick Chief Medical Officer of Health (NBCMOH) specifically recommends using medical grade (surgical, N95) masks for COVID-19 protection by the following people:

  • Health care workers.
  • Those at risk of severe illness (underlying health conditions, older adults, etc.)
  • Those providing care to positive/suspected COVID-19 cases.
  • Fit tested N95 masks and tight-fitting eye protection (such as goggles) should be worn when working with suspect/proven COVID-19 patients and performing Aerosol Generating Medical Procedures.

For all other employees, a 3-layer, or a 2-layer with a filter, community mask is adequate.

WorkSafeNB agrees with the NBCMOH’s recommendations, unless a workplace risk assessment determines processes at the workplace generate aerosols that may contain the virus. In that case, the N95 mask required must be fit tested.

Regardless of which mask is used, it must be well-fitted, with no gaps and worn properly over your nose and mouth.

Question 2: Can we use a NIOSH-approved N95 respirator instead of a community mask to protect against COVID-19 and its variants?

Answer:

Yes but, as mentioned in the answer to Question 1, a NIOSH-approved N95 respirator is only recommended in certain circumstances. Please note that without a proper fit test an N95 respirator is not guaranteed to provide any more protection than a properly worn level 1 medical mask.

Alternative respirators, as listed below, can also be used by workplaces if NIOSH-approved N95 respirators are unavailable. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the New Brunswick Dept. of Public Health (NBDPH) guidelines, however, do not allow for N95 respirators, or alternatives, with exhalation valves as acceptable protection against the COVID-19 virus, whether in droplet or aerosol form.

  • KN95 from China
  • P2, P3 from Australia
  • PFF2, PFF3 from Brazil and Europe
  • DS/DL2, DS/DL3 from Japan
  • Special, 1st class from Korea
  • N95 from Mexico.

If a NIOSH-approved respirator is required for work operations (non-COVID-19 or aerosols that may contain COVID), then sections 25, 46 and 47 of General Regulation 91-191 apply. A written respiratory code of practice must be available. Employees must be fit-tested and trained on the use, maintenance and limitations of the selected respirator. Employees must also be clean-shaven where the respirator meets the skin.

Additional guidance on respiratory protection.

Question 3: What are my obligations as an employer if my employees bring their own N95 or KN95 respirators?

Answer:

As stated in the answer to Question 2, because these devices require a proper fit test to protect against COVID-19 aerosols, the workplace must decide whether this practice is acceptable. These masks are not guaranteed to provide any more protection than a properly worn level 1 medical mask unless they are fit tested. The employer must document the use of masks without fit testing, particularly if fit tested respirators are required in other parts of the operation.

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