Some businesses, services, and workers want to use disposable respirators – like P2 and N95 – to protect from COVID-19.

In New Zealand P2 and N95 disposable respirators are recommended(external link) to protect from COVID-19 for:

  • healthcare workers who are at highest risk of infection, especially those looking after COVID-19 patients
  • workers in specific high-risk areas, such as the border.

If you decide to make disposable respirators a requirement within your workplace to protect from COVID-19, you must comply with your duties under the Health and Safety at Work (General Risk and Workplace Management) Regulations 2016. This means there are some things you need to do.

Carry out a risk assessment

A risk assessment is important to understand who may be exposed and require greater protection. Remember, you should avoid using respirators where it’s not necessary.

You may wish to seek advice about completing a risk assessment. One way you can find specialists to provide advice on carrying out risk assessments for COVID-19 at work is using the HASANZ register. There will be a cost for their service.

Consider the additional risks of wearing a respirator, such as any impact on the fit of other PPE.  Check that the work tasks can be carried out safely while wearing a respirator.

Put other control measures in place first

Although respiratory protection is important you should also consider other controls, such as:

  • improving ventilation
  • putting in place physical barriers
  • using physical distancing, and
  • limiting the number of people in a space.

Inform workers of the risks to their health when wearing a respirator

Wearing any form of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) puts an additional burden on the cardiac and respiratory systems. Make sure you discuss these risks with your workers so they can make an informed choice about wearing disposable respirators to protect from COVID-19.

You need to make sure workers with relevant existing conditions have a medical assessment before using disposable respirators.

Carry out fit testing for workers who will be wearing disposable respirators

Fit testing is important to ensure the respirator selected provides a good seal to protect the wearer. Without that seal, the virus can make its way past the respirator.

There is no such thing as a one size fits all.  You must ensure that the respirator fits the wearer and is comfortable. This means you may need to provide a variety of respirators for your workforce.

Fit testing should be carried by a person who is competent, such as those on the Commit2Fit register(external link).

Fit testing is in high demand and may not be immediately available. Until fit testing can be carried out, training and supervision for wearers is even more critical. You and your workers should prioritise this.

Train workers on the correct use of disposable respirators

Your workers must be trained to put their respirator on, wear it correctly, and take it off.  They must also be trained to carry out a seal check each time they put the respirator on. Follow manufacturers’ guidelines on these tasks.

Workers need to pay attention to:

  • the respirator’s position on their face
  • wearing the straps in the correct position
  • wearing the respirator with other PPE, glasses, or jewellery correctly
  • being clean shaven where the respirator seals the face
  • other factors that affect fit such as significant weight loss or gain, dentures, or facial surgery.

Note: Facial hair and stubble – even one day’s growth – make it almost impossible to get a good seal. If your workers have beards you will need to consider alternative controls to manage the risk of COVID-19.

Poster of approved facial hair styles for RPE (PDF 439 KB)

Make sure workers know when to change respirators and how long they can be used for the task being undertaken

Set clear expectations for how long a respirator can be used. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions or guidance about the use of respiratory protection for COVID-19.

Document details in workers’ personnel records

Make sure you keep records of the training and fit testing each worker receives.

Have a process in place to issue and maintain the disposable respirators

Make sure workers know how to dispose of used respirators safely and where they can get new ones.

If you decide your workers should wear disposable respirators to protect against COVID-19, you are responsible for providing them, fit testing, and providing a medical assessment if required. Your workers shouldn’t be made to pay for their own respirators.

Make someone responsible for your respiratory programme

Good supervision is essential to ensure respirators are used and worn correctly at work. Make someone responsible for checking this so your workers remain protected.

Our expectations about fit testing for disposable respirators used to protect against COVID-19

In the current situation, when a business or service decides to use disposable respirators solely to protect against the risk of COVID-19, it may not be reasonably practicable to complete fit testing by an appropriately qualified person before using the respirators. This is due to the rapid increase in use of respirators in response to COVID-19 and the significant demands on professional fit testing services at the moment. Where fit testing is available, it may also not be reasonably practicable to achieve good practice of re-fit testing every 12 months.

In these situations, we still expect other aspects of a respiratory protection equipment programme to be in place, such as a clean-shaven policy, training, and supervision. And that businesses and services have fit testing carried out as soon as possible to meet their duties under regulation 17(1)(a)(ii)(external link) of the Health and Safety at Work (General Risk and Workplace Management) Regulations. 

This only applies to situations where a business or service has decided to use disposable respirators solely to protect against COVID-19.

In all other situations, including for general infection prevention and control, we expect businesses and services fit test all workers wearing tight fitting respirators to meet their duties under regulation 17(1)(a)(ii).(external link)

More information for business using RPE of any type is included in WorkSafe’s quick guide Respiratory protective equipment – advice for businesses.