September 10, 2004

New respiratory protection standards mean yearly fit testing for Medical Center

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Thomas Hazinski, M.D., assocaite chair of Pedicatrics and director of Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine, gets fit tested for the N-95 respirator. Photo by Mary Donaldson

New respiratory protection standards mean yearly fit testing for Medical Center

Some 4,000 health care employees at Vanderbilt Medical Center will be affected by a change in Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules, which also stands to impact health care organizations nationwide.

“The withdrawal of the 1997 proposed standard on Occupational Exposure to Tuberculosis by OSHA this past December will now require yearly fit testing of the N-95 respirator,” said Susan N. Johnson, program manager, Medical Center Safety and Training for Vanderbilt Environmental Health & Safety (VEHS).

“While the new OSHA rules went into effect on July 1, VUMC has been working on the issue since February,” Johnson said. “A VUMC task force led by Melanie Swift, M.D., medical director of the Occupational Health Clinic, has been working on various aspects of implementing this change.

“One of the task force’s goals is to get this information out to the applicable VUMC faculty and staff by as many different means as possible to ensure adequate communication. Representatives from the task force are scheduling meetings with various management groups to discuss the regulatory changes and the plans for providing annual fit testing for applicable staff.”

Johnson said VEHS staff performed fit testing for some 1,200 to 1,400 employees in 2003 during new staff orientation. The new OSHA standard requires annual fit testing.

“The most significant issue is that fit testing for the N-95 respirators used for airborne precautions must now be performed on an annual basis. OSHA had proposed a separate TB standard, under which we were allowed to do respirator fit testing once during employment for employees working in areas having risk for occupational exposure to TB,” Johnson said. “With the withdrawal of the proposed TB standard, our N-95 TB respirator program must comply with the OSHA Respirator Standard. This standard outlines requirements for all respirators, from the N-95 respirator to the self-contained breathing units used by the fire department. This OSHA standard requires annual fit testing.”

“VEHS is working to provide managers with a list of employees who are required to be fit tested, which includes when they are due for their annual fit test,” explained Tamara J. Cooley, VEHS safety officer for the Medical Center.

“In order to provide fit testing to those that need it, we have established a monthly schedule that correlates with CPR training,” she said. “We are also working with different departments to set up special fit testing days that could tie in with their competency days.”

The fit-testing classes are 30 minutes long, and take place from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in S-2430 Medical Center North on Sept. 20; Oct. 25; Nov. 22; and Dec. 20. Each 30 minute session is limited to 20 people, with classes starting promptly on the half hour.

For questions, call VEHS at 322-2057 or visit their Web site at n