Find answers to your questions about personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace during COVID-19.
Personal Protective Equipment
Chemical cartridges may also be considered as alternatives to N95 masks. Chemical cartridges are rated to protect against specific chemicals: organic vapors, ammonia, etc. There are also dual cartridges white function as both a chemical filter and a particulate filter. Any cartridges considered as protection against COVID-19 in addition to other uses must be able to filter dust. For some cartridges, you can add on a particulate filter as an attachment.
Absolutely, there are alternative respirators available.
Look for labels saying a respirator is N99, N100, or R95, R99, R100, or P95, P99, P100.
95 indicates that it is 95% efficient in filtering, 99 indicates it is 99% efficient in filtering and 100 indicates it is 99.97% efficient in filtering. N, R, P is denoted as the following:
- N= Not resistant to oil particulates
- R = resistant to oil particulates
- P = oil proofBased on a risk assessment of the tasks to be done, decide whether N, R, or P is appropriate. In terms of efficiency, choose any 95, 99, or 100-rated respirator at this point. At minimum, should be a N95.
In some workplaces, chemical cartridges may also be considered. Chemical cartridges are rated to protect against specific chemicals: organic vapors, ammonia, etc. There are cartridges that function as dual chemical and particulate filters. Ensure that any of the cartridges that are considered can filter dust, as discussed above (N95, N99, N100, or R95, R99, R100, or P95, P99, P100). For certain cartridges, you can add on a particulate filter as an attachment piece.
A surgical mask was probably sufficient in most production environments. An N95 mask is not required in most production environments but an Industrial Hygienist is best qualified to determine the appropriate type.
Re-evaluate the existing Workplace Respiratory Protection Program if in place before the COVID-19 pandemic. Alternatively, you may be able to use non-medical masks to protect against novel coronavirus spread between co-workers in work areas where the physical distancing measures are not adequately present and enforced. For the same work areas improved mechanical ventilation can be of benefit.
An industrial hygienist can recommend based on the size of the room, overall indoor air quality, and other factors. There is no one recommendation.
N95s may be currently in use in several industries filtering dust and including (but not limited to):
- Poultry processing
- Baked goods manufacturing or other manufacturing where dry powder
are mixed such as rice milling, flour milling, and sugar refining
- Animal feed manufacturing working with grain dust
- Welding or manufacturing which cuts/grinds metals involving welding fumes and/or metal particulates
- Woodcutting processes: cutting, sanding and grinding wood to protect from wood dust
- Concrete industries such as ceramics and installation teams to protect from silica dust
- Breweries working with milling grains
- Any industry working with nuisance dusts from dry sweeping or cleaning
Where N95s are currently used and no new supply can be located, alternatives
may be sourced. When sourcing possible alternatives, look for labels that say:
- R95/R99/R100; or
The numbers (95/99/100) indicate how efficient the mask is at filtering (a mask labeled
95 is 95-per cent efficient at filtering). The letters denote the following:
- N = Not resistant to oil particulates
- R = resistant to oil particulates
- P = oil-proof
Manufacturers should review their risk assessments to determine if N, R, or P is appropriate. Any mask rated 95 or above is sufficient.
Some workers are opting to wear Cloth and Surgical masks. It is important to make aware that these types of masks may not protect you from the virus. These do not form a tight seal with the face and are not considered as an equivalent to the N95s. Cloth and surgical masks have their limitations, and these should be communicated to your workers. See this document from WorkSafeBC, on the differences between Cloth, Surgical, and Disposable N95 respirators.
If it is not practicable to eliminate work that causes workers to be within two metres of each other, the encroachment on physical distancing should be kept as brief as possible, through planning the work task and providing instructions to workers.
Utilize your joint health and safety committee or worker representative to identify risks and effective controls for your workplace.
The joint health and safety committee plays an important role in your occupational health and safety program, giving workers and employers a way to work together to identify and find solutions to workplace health and safety issues. The joint committee has the following specific duties and functions:
Identify situations that may be unhealthy or unsafe for workers, and advise on effective systems for responding to those situations
- Consider, and promptly deal with complaints relating to the health and safety of workers
- Consult with workers and the employer on issues related to occupational health and safety, and the occupational environment
- Make recommendations to the employer and the workers for the improvement of the occupational health and safety, and the occupational environment of workers
- Make recommendations to the employer on educational programs promoting the health and safety of workers and compliance with Part 3 of the Workers Compensation Act and the regulations, and to monitor their effectiveness
- Advise the employer on programs and policies required under the regulations for the workplace, and to monitor their effectiveness
- Advise the employer on proposed changes to the workplace, including significant proposed changes to equipment and machinery, or the work processes that may affect the health or safety of workers
- Ensure that accident investigations and regular inspections are carried out as required
- Participate in inspections, investigations, and inquiries as provided in Part 3 of the Workers Compensation Act and Section 3 of the Regulation
In workplaces where a worker health and safety representative is required, the representative has the same duties and functions as a joint committee, to the extent practicable.