Environmental Health & Safety

University of Colorado Boulder


Respiratory Protection Program for Animal Researchers and Support Staff

Revised as of February 24, 2015

1. Purpose:

The University of Colorado at Boulder’s (UCB’s) Occupational Health and Safety Program (OHP) for animal researchers and staff understands that staff and researchers working with laboratory animals are exposed to respiratory hazards, especially aerosolized rodent-associated allergens, while performing their research an animal care activities.  Personnel who have pre-existing rodent allergies (Laboratory Animal Allergies, or LAA) are much more likely to worsen with continued exposure to these allergens.  Personnel who have a familial or historical predisposition to develop allergic responses (atopic) may also be more likely to develop LAA.  The purpose of this program is to ensure that personnel with pre-existing LAA are protected as much as possible from excessive exposure to these allergens.  Personnel with pre-disposing atopy will also be offered protection from developing LAA.

Engineering controls are the first line of defense in some of the animal housing facilities at UCB.  However, particularly where engineering controls have not been feasible, the use of particulate respirators (N95 masks) along with other required personal protective equipment (PPE) are necessary to protect the health of those personnel with pre-existing LAA.

All personnel, including those with probable atopy, have been educated about rodent allergy prevention.  Some personnel without LAA have requested to wear an N95 to help reduce the risk for developing rodent allergies.  UCB OHP will provide N95 mask fit testing and, if indicated, pulmonary function testing (PFT) with or without a brief targeted physical exam.  UCB OHP will also make recommendations for types of appropriate types of masks.  The Office of Animal Resources (OAR) or individual labs will be responsible for providing the type of N95 mask recommended by OHP.

As appropriate, respirators may also be used with the appropriate filtering cartridge to prevent exposure to low levels of certain organic vapors.

2. Responsibility:

UCB OHP is responsible for administering the respiratory protection program for animal researchers and staff.  UCB OHP will:

  1. Identify individuals via the use of the Animal Personnel Occupational Health Questionnaire or the Annual Health Status Questionnaire, who have pre-existing or are developing rodent allergies. UCB OHP is also responsible for maintaining records of who is strongly recommended to use an N95 mask due to LAA.
  2. Provide N95 fit testing services for personnel with pre-existing rodent allergies. This will be a qualitative fit test using saccharin or Bitrex.
  3. Provide Pulmonary Function Testing (PFT), if appropriate prior to fit testing.
  4. Provide targeted medical exams, if appropriate prior to fit testing.
  5. Provide training regarding prevention of LAA.
  6. Provide training on how to use an N95 mask appropriately.
  7. Provide annual online training for half-face respirator users.
  8. Offer N95 mask fit testing for other individuals who may have pre-existing atopy.
  9. Advise further medical evaluation when indicated.
  10. Monitor the effectiveness of program annually, via annual questionnaires and University Risk Management (URM) allergy claims submitted.
  11. Periodically updating the written program.
  12. Review work processes that may determine potential exposures for personnel.
  13. Posting a copy of this program and the OSHA standard for respiratory protection on the IACUC and EHS websites.

3. Medical Fitness Evaluation:

All animal personnel needing a respirator for protection against LAA must be enrolled in UCB OHP.  Enrollment is accomplished via a confidential medical questionnaire, distributed after IACUC training.  Personnel return the questionnaire directly to UCB OHP.  Enrollment and subsequent clearance is a requirement to participate in animal research and for access to live research animals.

If the personnel state they have LAA and have no other pre-disposing medical conditions that could make it difficult to wear a negative pressure N95 mask, fit testing may be done without the need for either a PFT or a targeted medical evaluation.

If the personnel state LAA and has a pre-disposing medical condition that could make it difficult to wear a negative pressure N95 mask, fit testing may be done in conjunction with either or both a PFT and targeted medical evaluation.

If the personnel state no LAA, but requests to use an N95 mask, fit testing will be accomplished as above.

A periodic review of the personnel’s health status will be done every year by questionnaire.  Questionnaire results will determine if the personnel needs any medical follow-up.

Medical fitness evaluations will be done at no cost to the department or laboratory.

4. Selection of Respirators

Respirators will be recommended and fit tested by UCB OHP.

Choice of respirator will be determined by the job duties and potential duration of use.  This determination will be done by UCB OHP, in conjunction with the personnel being fit tested.

5. Use of Respirators

Personnel who are strongly recommended to wear a respirator to prevent worsening LAA shall have it properly fitted prior to initial use.  OHP will determine that the personnel is able to wear a respirator comfortably.

Personnel may opt out of wearing a respirator to prevent worsening LAA and this shall be documented in their medical record.

UCB OHP will discuss the limitations for respirator use with the personnel being fit tested.

Personnel must wear their N95 masks in the manner in which they were trained.  Personnel should wear the N95 mask for which they were fit tested.  If personnel would like to change the N95 mask, they will need to be re-fit-tested.  Personnel will be told the type of N95 for which they were fit-tested; personnel are responsible for telling their lab manager or principal investigator the type of N95 mask for which they have been fit-tested.

Personnel must inform UCB OHP of the need for medical re-evaluation if they are having worsening allergy symptoms, significant changes in health status, significant weight gain or loss.  Personnel must report to the UCB OHP any symptoms related to their ability to use an N95 mask, including worsening shortness of breath, dizziness, wheezing, fainting.

6. Personnel Training on Respirators

All personnel will be individually trained on how to use and check respirators.  Maintenance and storage of respirators will also be reviewed if the personnel has a half-face respirator.

Records for all personnel fit tested and trained will be maintained with UCB OHP.

Training will be provided by UCB OHP.  This shall include, but not be limited to:

  1. Reasons for respiratory protection
  2. Effects of respiratory hazards, including LAA and induction of work-related asthma
  3. Why a particular type of respirator is being used
  4. Explanation of operation, capabilities and limitation of respirator chosen for personnel
  5. Training on donning, doffing, wearing, checking respirator
  6. Explanation of how to recognize emergency situations
  7. Regulations concerning respirator use.
  8. Proper fitting of respirators, including negative and positive pressure checks.

Personnel fit tested for half-face respirators will be required to complete online training annually.

7. Fitting Respirators

Proper fitting respirators is essential for proper protection.  UCB OHP must ensure a good fit for personnel’s respirator.

Respirators cannot be worn if unable to achieve a good seal.  If personnel experience significant weight gain or loss, they must notify UCB OHP for re-fit testing respirator.

Fit testing is required when UCB OHP is issuing a recommendation for specific respirator for personnel.  Additional fit testing will be required if changing respirator.   Additional fit testing will be required if personnel report a significant weight loss or gain or if personnel have significant changes in facial features.

UCB OHP will only fit test negative pressure respirators using a qualitative fit test.  UCB OHP will not fit test any tight-fitting atmosphere-supplying respirators.  Qualitative fit testing will be done using either saccharin or Bitrex with a fit-test tent.

8. Maintenance of Respirators

Proper maintenance of non-disposable respirators is the responsibility of each personnel issued a respirator

Non-disposable respirators should be maintained and cleaned properly; personnel are trained by the UCB OHP staff.  Non-disposable respirators are generally assigned to one individual.  In certain situations, non-disposable respirators may be used by multiple people.  In this case, respirators must be cleaned and disinfected after each use.

Non-disposable respirators should be inspected prior to use to make sure that all parts are working properly; any defective pieces should be replaced and if not possible to be replaced, a new respirator should be used.

Non-disposable respirator maintenance and cleaning should be accomplished according to the manufacturer instructions.