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  6. Employee Guidance on the Use of Surgical Masks and N-95 Respirators for Medium Exposure Risk Occupations

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Employee Guidance on the Use of Surgical Masks and N-95 Respirators for Medium Exposure Risk Occupations

Release Date: August 17, 2009

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines various levels of risk for exposure to H1N1 in the workplace.

Medium exposure risk occupations are described as jobs that require frequent, close contact (within 6 feet) exposures to known or suspected sources of pandemic influenza virus such as coworkers, the general public, outpatients, school children or other such individuals or groups.  This may include close interactions such as administering first aid to injured persons who are not suspected to have H1N1.

Employees in medium risk occupations may choose to wear surgical masks.  Surgical masks prevent sprays of potentially infected liquid droplets (from talking, coughing, or sneezing) from contacting the wearer’s nose or mouth.  An employee may consider use of an N-95 respirator if there is an expectation of close contact with persons who have symptomatic influenza infection or if protection is recommended against airborne transmission.  Please note that, without an adequate fit-test, an N-95 respirator is unlikely to provide better protection than a surgical mask.  For more information, see the Fit Test Guidance for Mandatory Use of Respirators.

General Guidance

DHS employees choosing to voluntarily wear N-95 respirators as a precaution should be aware of the proper use and limitations of respirators.  Before wearing a N-95 respirator, consider the following:

  • Use only a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approved respirator; a NIOSH approval label will appear on or in the respirator packaging.
  • Read and follow all instructions provided by the manufacturer about the use, maintenance, and warnings regarding the respirator's limitations.
  • Use a N-95 only for tasks that have been evaluated as appropriate by a safety and health professional.
  • Only one person should use a single N-95 respirator; do not share respirators.
  • Respirators should be disposed of after each use.

Medical Evaluation

Using a respirator makes your lungs and heart work harder.  A medical evaluation is not required to voluntarily wear a N-95 respirator on the job.  If you have a medical condition that might preclude the use of a respirator you should consult with your physician.

Respirator Fit Testing

Respirator fit-testing is also not required for voluntary respirator use.  The purpose of respirator fit testing is to verify that the selected make, model and size of the respirator facepiece adequately accommodates an individual's facial characteristics, and that the wearer can don the facepiece properly and can achieve the anticipated protection during use.  If you elect to wear an N95 voluntarily and are interested in fit-testing, contact your safety and health office for guidance.

This document provides general guidance only for employees covered by Title 5, United States Code, and does not, and is not intended to create or violate any legal rights.

Last Updated: 09/21/2018
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