By James L. CurtisAdam R. Young, Patrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) added a section to its COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding respirators and particle size, explaining how N95 respirators effectively protect wearers from coronavirus exposure.

Respirators and Particle Size

OSHA’s addition to its COVID-19 FAQs regarding respirators and particle size posits, “will an N95 respirator protect the wearer from the virus that causes COVID-19?” OSHA answers that an N95 respirator is effective in protecting workers from the virus that causes COVID-19.

“N95” refers to a class of respirator filter that removes at least 95% of very small (0.3 micron) particles from the air. Throughout the pandemic, some have mistakenly argued that because the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is around 0.1 microns in size, wearing an N95 respirator will not protect against such a small virus. According to OSHA, “that mistaken claim appears to result from a misunderstanding of how respirators work.”

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has conducted various tests and found that, due to the dynamics involved in filtration, an N95 respirator is actually “more effective at filtering particles that are smaller or larger than 0.3 microns in size.” Accordingly, the N95 respirator filter is very effective at protecting people from the virus causing COVID-19.

It is important for employers and workers to remember that a respirator only provides the expected protection when used correctly. Respirators, when required by an employer, must be used as part of a comprehensive, written respiratory protection program that meets the requirements of OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard. As part of such a program, employees must be properly fit tested for the make, style, and size of N95 they will be using, must receive training on respirator use and maintenance, and must don and doff the respirator correctly.

For more information on this or any related topic, please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.