Respirator Trusted-Source Information
Section 3: Ancillary Respirator Information
In most industrial workplace situations, a filtering facepiece respirator (FFR), such as an N95, can be reused as part of an employer’s respiratory protection program. Reuse refers to the practice of using the same FFR multiple times during a work shift. The respirator is stored between uses and put on again (‘donned’) prior to the next potential exposure. Unless the manufacturer identifies a specified duration of use, for example “single use only”, or the employer’s respirator program excludes reuse, for example when exposed to infectious agents capable of being transmitted by contact, users can wear an FFR until it is damaged, soiled, or causing noticeably increased breathing resistance. FFRs should only be reused by the same wearer and should be stored in the following way:
- according to manufacturer’s recommendations,
- in a way that protects them from damage (including deforming the straps), dust, contamination, sunlight, extreme temperatures, excessive moisture, damaging chemicals, and
- in a way that prevents deformation of the facepiece and exhalation valve
Regardless of the setting, the number of times a FFR is reused should be limited. Unfortunately, there is no simple way to determine the maximum possible number of safe reuses for all FFR types and models. A single study showed that up to 20 donnings of the same FFR can reduce FFR fit in some models, due to stresses imparted on head straps and other FFR components, jeopardizing the wearer’s level of protection (see Impact of multiple consecutive donnings on filtering facepiece respirator fit). Consult the FFR manufacturer for specific guidance regarding reuse and storage of their product. Additional information is available on the end-of-service-life FAQ.
While limited FFR reuse is practiced safely in many industrial workplaces, extra caution should be taken in certain workplaces where there are additional risks posed by handling a used or potentially contaminated respirator. For example, some pathogens such as those found in healthcare settings and biosafety labs, can remain infectious on the surface of the respirator for extended periods of time. Pathogens on the respirator surface can potentially be transferred by touch to the wearer’s hands and thus risk causing infection through subsequent touching of the mucous membranes of the face (i.e., self-inoculation).
There are also non-emergency situations (e.g., close contact with patients with tuberculosis) where N95 FFR reuse has been recommended in healthcare settings and is commonly practiced (see TB Respiratory Protection Program In Health Care Facilities – Administrator’s Guide).
For FFR reuse in biosafety labs, please see Can I reuse my filtering facepiece respirator in biosafety labs FAQ?
Even though filtering facepiece respirator (FFR) reuse may be allowed in specific limited circumstances in healthcare settings and industrial settings, in general, FFRs should not be reused in biosafety level 2 (BSL-2), animal biosafety level 2 (ABSL-2), biosafety level 3 (BSL-3), and animal biosafety level 3 (ABSL-3) laboratories. BSL-2 and ASBL-2 organisms are moderate-risk agents that cause human disease of varying severity by ingestion or through percutaneous or mucous membrane exposure. BSL-3 and ABSL-3 organisms are those with a known potential for aerosol transmission or may cause serious and potentially lethal infections and that are indigenous or exotic in origin.
Respiratory protection should be used in BSL-2, ABSL-2, BSL-3, and ABSL-3 laboratories as determined by a risk assessment. In some of these instances, the risk assessment may permit the use of disposable NIOSH-approved FFR. Many of the agents handled in these types of laboratories are either known or suspected to present at least some measure of risk of transmission following dermal exposure or contact with fomites like FFRs. Pathogens on the respirator surface can potentially be transferred by touch to the wearer’s hands and thus risk causing infection through subsequent touching of the mucous membranes of the face (i.e., self-inoculation).
Similar to other personal protective equipment like gloves, FFRs should be discarded after each use and disposed of with other contaminated laboratory waste. In rare cases, the risk assessment could allow FFR limited reuse in biosafety laboratories when the only agents being handled are not capable of contact transmission provided the same precautions used in healthcare and industrial settings are applied (see Can I reuse my filtering facepiece respirator FAQ).