NIOSH revises advice to protect responders from airborne pathogens

Apr 7, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently revised its recommendations about personal equipment for protecting first responders from airborne pathogens in potential bioterrorism situations.

The "Recommendations for the Selection and Use of Respirators and Protective Clothing for Protection Against Biological Agents" were updated to reflect changes in equipment ratings and standards since the previous version was issued in 2001, said John Decker, associate director for emergency preparedness at NIOSH. The document was published online last week.

The revised version includes respirators rated for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) hazards as well as updated National Fire Protection Association standards (NFPA) for protective clothing, Decker told CIDRAP News.

"A lot of this has changed over the last several years," Decker said. "In 2001 we didn't have CBRN respirators. This was part of a general review of our site and which documents needed to be updated as part of a routine process."

The recommendations call for using CBRN respirators and the highest level of protective clothing for suspected biological incidents when the type of airborne agent or the dissemination method is unknown. The guidance describes circumstances that allow for lower levels of protection, such as when the agent is known and it was disseminated in "a letter or package that can be easily bagged."

The document also discusses circumstances in which non-CBRN respirators can be used, and it addresses decontamination of protective equipment after use. It says the use of personal protective equipment should be part of a worker health and safety program that also includes preexposure immunizations and postexposure preventive treatment and medical monitoring.

NIOSH says the guidelines are "oriented toward acts of terrorism" and do not apply to controlled use of biological agents in laboratories.

See also:

Revised NIOSH recommendations

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