by Phillip C. Fincher, CIH, CSP
Senior Vice President

ISO Technical Committee ISO/TC 94, Personal safety — Personal protective equipment, Subcommittee SC 15, Respiratory protective devices, in collaboration with the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) Technical Committee CEN/TC 79, Respiratory protective devices, finalized  ISO 16972:2020 Respiratory protective device  in 2020. This standard defines terms and specifies units of measurement for respiratory protective devices (RPDs), excluding diving apparatus, includes graphical symbols that can be required on RPDs, parts of RPD or instruction manuals in order to instruct the person(s) using the RPD as to its operation.

ISO has chosen to focus on standardizing respirator performance and making the respirator standards more “wearer centric.” If adopted by the United States, this could spell the end of the current classification and terminology used by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and force the elimination of the Occupational Safety and Health Association’s (OSHA) assigned protection factors.  While this is not expected soon, everyone from equipment manufacturers to users will have to adjust to new selection procedures and classifications.

Many countries have existing national regulations for RPD performance. In the United States, these regulations are established by NIOSH while selection and use standards are set by OSHA under 29 CFR 1910.134. The question is, “How will the ISO standards fit into existing standards and regulations?” Will OSHA be willing to undergo another extensive rulemaking period to accept ISO RPD in addition to NIOSH approved respirators after just having completed rulemaking on the standard in 2006?  Unlikely… but if so, RPD user and wearers will have to learn a new system for referring to respirators they use. Can we expect US workers to make the transition from using a half-facepiece N95 respirator to a PC3 W1 bT F2 RPD (the proposed ISO nomenclature for the same respirator)? Work items from ISO are expected to continue to be published between now and the end of 2015, therefore be on the lookout for those as well as any response by NIOSH or OSHA regarding their adoption or incorporation.