NIOSH has announced a crowdsourcing competition, the Respirator Fit Evaluation Challenge. Respirator Fit testing is frequently performed as part of pre-employment and annual exams. Over 3 million employees in the United State are required to wear respiratory PPE according to NIOSH. There were temporary accommodations in place to address respirator shortages at the beginning of the pandemic. This included the suspended enforcement of annual fit testing by OSHA. However, those early pandemic exemptions have been lifted. Fit testing is now back to being required by OSHA to be done annually. Additionally employees are required to test whenever they have a new respirator. NIOSH says, however, that this may not always be the case.
Subsequently, NIOSH announced their challenge on January 10 in collaboration with Capital Consulting Corporation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The challenge seeks to collect “novel ideas” that could positively influence respirator fit testing practices. The challenge also aims to address two problems with fit testing:
- Small and disadvantaged businesses often lack the resources needed to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) initial and annual fit-testing requirements under the respiratory protection standard.
- Members of the public now wear respirators like N95 filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) for protection from infectious diseases like COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), as well as pollution and wildfire smoke, without knowing whether they have achieved proper fit for adequate respiratory protection.
“Fit testing is vital to ensure a respirator wearer is receiving the expected level of protection and is wearing a correctly fitting model and size,” Maryann D’Alessandro, PhD, director of NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, said in a press release.
Individuals or teams that wish to participate in the challenge must submit a concept paper. Deadline for the first phase by May 1, 2023. The concept paper must be 10 pages maximum and should outline the participant’s idea, said NIOSH. Throughout the multiple phases, participants will be able to win up to a combined total of $350,000.
Anyone interested in participating must register via the challenge website. Once registered, participants will be able to attend a Zoom orientation webinar on February 2nd.
“This Challenge provides an opportunity for innovators to develop a solution that can improve the safety and health of everyone who wears a filtering facepiece respirator,” said D’Alessandro.