The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued new respiratory protection guidance for long-term care industry workers with the goal of preserving supplies of N95 face masks.

The guidance is aimed at protecting workers in nursing homes, assisted living communities and other LTC facilities from occupational exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. It also discourages dependence on personal protective equipment alone. This is particularly important in light of the continuing supply chain demand for N95 filtering masks, the agency stated in a Friday announcement.

Facility operators should reassess infection prevention safety measures to “identify any changes needed to prevent over-reliance on respirators and other PPE,” it said. 

Employers also must comply with OSHA’s protection standards by implementing a written, worksite-specific respiratory protection program when respirators are used, the guidance notes. This includes medical evaluation, fit testing and training. OSHA provides background and links to more information on implementing an RPP, along with a list of face mask and face covering options.

The agency recommends that operators follow its “hierarchy of controls” in infection prevention safety measures, with a primary focus on physical plant engineering and administrative controls. These include building ventilation assessments, hand hygiene, physical distancing and cleaning and/or disinfection of surfaces.

Long-term care facility employers can refer to OSHA’s COVID-19 webpage for updated enforcement discretion memoranda and guidance regarding appropriate mask usage. The agency has allowed for some enforcement flexibility regarding respirators during the pandemic.