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Availability of disposable respirators during the COVID-19 pandemic

There is currently a shortage of disposable particulate respirators in Australia due to an increase in demand from health care workers and from the public and because many Chinese manufacturers have temporarily shut down.

This is an issue for workplaces which require disposable respirators to protect workers from exposure to hazardous dusts generated from various work processes.

This following will assist non-health care businesses in Queensland to access disposable particulate and other types of respirators used to protect the respiratory system from exposure to hazardous particulate matter.

There are many Australian based suppliers that source respirators from countries other than China. These brands of respirator are still being shipped to Australia.

These brands include, but are not limited to, 3M, Moldex, Honeywell, MSA, UVEX, Prochoice and Draeger.

Some distributors do not have respirators currently on display in shopfronts and are instead holding stock for existing customers. You may need to negotiate a supply of disposable respirators, noting they may not be immediately available.

If you normally use P2 disposable respirators to protect against mechanically generated particulates (for example, dust from power tools or bonded asbestos removal), a P1 disposable respirator may be an alternative option. P1 disposable respirators are suitable for mechanically generated particulates while P2 disposable respirators are suitable for both mechanically and thermally generated particulates (e.g. particulates produced by hot processes such as soldering and welding). Use this table to select an appropriate respirator.

It is important to use a respirator that is certified and stencilled as meeting Australia/New Zealand AS/NZA 1716.  Note, respirators manufactured and certified to similar standards to Australia/New Zealand AS/NZA 1716 can be used. View the comparison of equivalent respirator certification standards.

Maximise the use of disposable particulate respirators

You should ensure you are getting the maximum use out of the respirators you are able to source:

  • Reschedule work for when disposable respirators are available—for example, when your supplier has promised delivery of the respirators.
  • Ensure respirator use is based upon the risk of exposure and is rationalised—restrict access to respirators to staff who need to use them, i.e. whose work puts them at risk of exposure to a hazardous dust.
  • For airborne contaminants except for asbestos[1], don't automatically replace the disposable respirator after a rest break or because it is sweaty and mildly/moderately dirty on the outside.Instead, extend the wear time according to the following criteria:
    • As part of your risk assessment and in consultation with team members document a procedure that specifies a maximum time the disposable respirator can be used before disposal, for example 4-hours or 8-hours[2], unless any of the following occurs:
      • The breathing resistance becomes excessive to the wearer.
      • Any damage occurs e.g. broken strap, torn or ripped etc.
      • The respirator becomes unhygienic i.e. it has been coughed/sneezed into and the inside is in an unacceptable condition.
      • The outside of the respirator becomes excessively contaminated by dust, or dust has infiltrated the inside of the respirator. It is important to note here that regardless of supply problems with disposable respirators, higher order controls such as local extraction ventilation (LEV) should always be in place to prevent excessive dust that causes such visible contamination of any respirator.
      • The respirator no longer fits tightly to the face.
    • Ensure the documented procedure outlines the provision of containers used to store disposable respirators or a label on the respirator itself between uses, with the user's name to reduce accidental usage of another person's respirator.
    • Where respirators are being reused following a rest break, ensure facilities are available to support the following steps:
      • Before removing the respirator—wash hands,
      • Remove respirator and wash face,
      • Ensure a user fit check is completed each time disposable RPE is re fitted, and
      • Dispose of RPE if damaged, dust is present inside the RPE or it no longer fit tightly and conforms to the wearers face.

Use suitable alternatives to disposable respirators

  • Use higher order risk controls such as enclosures and LEV that eliminate exposure to airborne contaminants.
  • Consider administrative controls such as a reducing the level and duration of exposure of employees involved in dust generation through work organisation (periodic rotation of employees both through and in areas with potentially significant dust exposures) and limits on overtime.
  • Use other types of respirators which provide the same or greater level of protection such as reusable respirators and powered air-purifying respirators (PAPR). Supply of these respirators has not currently been severely impacted, but this may change.
  • Reusable respirators with replaceable particulate filters can be used as an alternative to disposable respirators. Filters can be used repeatedly so long as both parts are regularly cleaned and stored in a clean container between usage. The cost for this type of respirator is very competitive when compared to ongoing replacement costs of disposable respirators.
  • Reusable PAPR can be used as an alternative to disposable respirators. PAPR units have a wide variety of head-tops and replaceable particulate filters.

Reusable respirators and PAPRs with tight fitting masks require fit testing to the face of each user, as was done for disposable respirators. Disposable or half face respirators can be qualitatively or quantitatively fit testing. Full-face respirators can only be quantitively fit tested. Positive pressure respirators must be fit tested under negative pressure conditions.

Fit-testing during the COVID-19 pandemic

Reusable respirators and PAPRs with tight fitting masks require fit testing to the face of each user, as was done for disposable respirators. Disposable or half face respirators can be qualitatively or quantitatively fit testing. Full-face respirators can only be quantitively fit tested. Positive pressure respirators must be fit tested under negative pressure conditions.

People who have symptoms of COVID-19 or are isolating in accordance with government guidance should not attend a face fit test.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic public health measure requiring people to maintain a social distance of at least 1.5 metres may result in fit-testing not being able to be performed or offered by fit-testing providers.  Therefore, it may not be reasonably practicable for fit-testing to be performed whilst these COVID-19 pandemic public health measures are in place due to the lack of availability of fit-test providers.

Workers must however carry out “fit-checking” each time they don a respirator in accordance with the manufacturer instructions for the respirator. Workers must also receive instruction in how to properly put on and take off a respirator, including fit-checking. View an example of such for disposable respirators.

However, if fit-testing services are available, a risk assessment should be conducted to determines if fit testing can be done safely. Then to minimise the risk of transmission of COVID-19 during face-fit testing the following additional measures should be taken:

  • fit-testers must follow government advice on maintaining a social distance of 1.5 metres, as they can likely make observations from this distance and deliver any instructions verbally
  • those being fitted should keep their respirators on if closer observation is required to minimise risk to testers
  • both the fit tester and those being fit tested should wash their hands before and after the test
  • those being fit tested with reusable masks should clean the mask themselves before and immediately after the test using a suitable disinfectant cleaning wipe (check with manufacturer to avoid damaging the mask)
  • test facepieces that cannot be adequately disinfected (e.g. disposable half masks) should not be used by more than one individual.
  • fit testers should wear disposable gloves when undertaking cleaning of the tubes, hoods etc and ensure they remove gloves in accordance with the following or like procedure
  • immediately dispose of used gloves, disposable masks, cleaning wipes etc in a waste bin

Fit testers should familiarise themselves with the following potential contact points and actions to minimise transmission:

Contact points Action to minimise transmission

Inside and outside of respirator (mask)

The wearer should clean the inside and outside of the mask using a suitable disinfectant cleaning wipe under the fit tester's instruction and supervision.

Inside and outside (where held) of hood used for qualitative fit tests

The fit tester should clean the inside and outside (where held) of the hood between each test using a suitable disinfectant wipe that won't damage the visor and wearing disposable gloves.

Moisture from the wearer's breath collected inside the ambient particle counting device tubing (i.e. for quantitative testing)

Only touch used tubing when wearing gloves. Clean the mask end of the tube with a suitable disinfectant wipe after use.

Have a stock of spare tubes (to allow used tubes to dry); or ensure the end of used tubing is placed in a wad of tissue if removing the condensate between tests by blowing out with compressed/canned air.

Fit testing adaptors and sampling probe

Clean at the same time as cleaning the mask following the fit test using a suitable disinfectant cleaning wipe, under the instruction and supervision of the fit tester.

Specific inner mask supplied by fit tester when fit testing powered RPE and the existing inner mask is replaced

This should be cleaned by the wearer at the same time as they clean the inside of the mask using a suitable disinfectant cleaning wipe following their fit test, under the instruction and supervision of the fit tester.


Although, the wearers exhaled air does not pass through the filters used when testing half and full facemasks, they may be re-used and handled between tests and so should be wiped using a suitable disinfectant cleaning wipe.

(Reference: HSE)

Do not allow workers to work without a respirator

For certain airborne contaminants such as silica and asbestos, the degree of harm that might result from the hazard is high. The unavailability of a respirator is not a reasonable defence for failing to comply with work health and safety laws. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland inspectors will continue to issue relevant notices if their reasonable belief supports such contraventions.

1 Asbestos is treated differently to other contaminants because various codes of practice require disposable personal protective equipment to be replaced each time a worker leaves the asbestos removal work area, for example, to take a rest break.
2 A disposable respirator should not be used for more than one day before it is disposed of and replaced with a new respirator.