The N95 Dust Mask Shortage and Your Foundry
The recent Coronovirus outbreak is causing significant problems for foundries. Many foundries use the N95 dust mask as part of their personal protective equipment (PPE) programs. Since the outbreak, N95 respirators are virtually unavailable due primarily to the fact that the general public has bought all available inventory in hopes of protecting themselves from the virus. As a result, foundries have found themselves without the required supplies of N95 respirators that they need to continue operations.
NFFS has contacted nearly every major supplier in the country trying to secure a source for the N95s on behalf of the industry, with no success. We have learned that additional supplies of the N95s are at least 60 days out, and that first responders will be given priority access to these supplies when they become available. It is likely that your foundry may not be able to secure supplies of the N95s for at least the next 2-3 months as a result.
If your foundry is requiring the use of N95 respirators but cannot get adequate supplies, there are options available. These include using other respirators, such as an N100 half-face respirator with cartridges, or using a powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) as a replacement. This will require, of course, fit testing the employee with the new respirator and continuing the employee’s participation in the medical surveillance program.
If your employees are voluntarily using the N95 masks, you have options as well. The first option is to consider offering the employee an N100 or other type of respirator, such as a PAPR. The employee still needs to be fit tested and now must also be placed in the medical surveillance program in this circumstance. The other option is to advise employees that the N95s are not available, and until the company can secure additional supplies, no dust mask is available for their use. Employees may be offered to opportunity to bring in their own NIOSH approved N95 masks, if they can find them for purchase or have a supply of their own.
Given the industry wide impact and the rapid emergence of this issue, NFFS will be hosting a special webinar reviewing respirator program requirements, with specific content addressing fit testing and medical surveillance requirements, next Tuesday, March 10, 2020, at 2:00 p.m. ET.
NOTE: In order to accommodate this time-sensitive issue, the previously planned NFFSummit Webinar on Hazardous Chemical Inventories has been moved to Tuesday, April 14, 2020 at 2:00 p.m. ET. Register to attend either webinar at www.nffs.org.
Finally, please call NFFS if you have any questions about N95s and respirator use in your foundry. As always, we are here to help and just a phone call away.