Respirators can be an effective method of protection against COVID-19 hazards when properly selected and worn. Respirators can be worn by employees if they feel they need an additional level of protection, even in circumstances that do not require a respirator to be used. However, if a respirator is used improperly or not kept clean, the respirator itself can become a hazard to the worker. If your employer allows you to provide and use your own respirator, you need to take certain precautions to be sure that the respirator itself does not present a hazard.
You should do the following when you decide to wear an N95 on a voluntary basis for purposes of protection against COVID-19:
- Read and follow all instructions provided by the manufacturer on use, maintenance, cleaning and care, and warnings regarding the respirator’s limitations. If your department is providing N95 respirators for voluntary use, ask for manufacturer instructions. Please review these Seven Steps to Correctly Wear a Respirator at Work for information to help you properly put on and take off your respirator as well as a link to a helpful video.
- Choose respirators certified for use to protect against the contaminant of concern. NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, certifies respirators. A label or statement of certification should appear on the respirator or respirator packaging. It will tell you what the respirator is designed for and how much it will protect you.
- Do not wear your respirator into atmospheres containing contaminants for which your respirator is not designed to protect against. For example, a respirator designed to filter dust particles will not protect you against gases, vapors, or very small solid particles of fumes or smoke.
- Keep track of your respirator so that you do not mistakenly use someone else’s respirator.
- Do not wear your own N-95 respirator where other workplace hazards (e.g., chemical exposures) require use of an employer-provided respirator. In such cases, your employer must provide you with a respirator that is used in accordance with OSHA’s respiratory protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134) as well as provide training, medical clearance and fit testing.
- Discontinue the use of the N-95 respirator if you begin experiencing medical signs or symptoms (e.g., shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, chest pain, any other symptoms related to lung problems, cardiovascular symptoms) that are related to ability to use a respirator. If you previously had a medical evaluation and it was determined you should not wear a respirator, your employer must not provide a respirator under this standard unless you are re-evaluated and medically cleared to use a respirator.