Home Resources Blog May 2020

Think before you ‘mask’!

07 May 2020
As the public begins to resume operations during the Covid-19 pandemic, it appears that the wearing of masks and social distancing is going to be a common factor. I thought it would be useful to remind employers about their compliance obligations regarding the use of what is sometimes casually discounted as a dust mask.

First, not all dust masks are the same and not all are NIOSH approved.  

Recently, a lot of attention has been focused upon the N95 filtering facepiece Respirator (FFR). The “N” signifies that the mask is not resistant to oil and the “95” means that it is rated to filter 95% of airborne particles.  Think about your work environment before making the purchase and understand your compliance obligations when determining a back-to-work policy. Here’s the definition offered by OSHA:

"Filtering facepiece" (dust mask) means a negative pressure particulate respirator with a filter as an integral part of the facepiece or with the entire facepiece composed of the filtering medium. Whenever a filtering facepiece is used to meet the requirements of the standard, it must be NIOSH approved.

The use of an FFR in the workplace to control the risks associated with biological hazards such as COVID-19, may have compliance obligations that employers will need to re-evaluate as they create a plan to resume operations. It will be very important to distinguish between mandatory use and voluntary use policies, and also understand what employer obligations are associated with each distinction.

In the United States, respirator use including filtering facepiece respirators are subject to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Respiratory Protection Standard, 29 CFR § 1910.134 . OSHA published a directive, CPL 02-00-158  which establishes interpretations and enforcement policies related to that regulation. They also produced a publication, OSHA 3384-09 to assist organizations with understanding the regulations.

When organizations resume operations, the use of filter facepiece masks, like the N95, are likely going to be used. Remember that not all dust masks provide the same level of protection and the N95 might not be appropriate for your work environment. Ultimately, the employee needs to feel safe, and be safe, and it is the employers obligation to ensure that goal is met.

Other useful References:

  • Standard Interpretation 1910.134(b); 1910.134(c)(2); 1910.134 App D


  • Voluntary use of respirators


  • Enforcement Guidance during the Covid period


  • Decontamination and reuse of filtering facepiece Respirators