Division Title

Respiratory Protection

Respiratory Protection Program 

The NIH has established a Respiratory Protection Program (RPP) in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134). The RPP provides NIH-wide procedures for the proper selection, use, and care of respiratory protective equipment, and is overseen by the Office of Research Services (ORS), Division of Occupational Health and Safety (DOHS). The RPP covers all NIH employees with the exception of those supporting clinical care in the NIH Clinical Center. The Clinical Center provides administrative management for respiratory protection of personnel working with pathogens of concern.


DOHS has multiple branches, two of which collaborate to facilitate the RPP: the Occupational Medical Service (OMS) and the Technical Assistance Branch (TAB). An RPP Manager is designated within TAB and assists the worksite manager with worksite evaluations, respirator selection, respirator training and respirator fit testing. OMS provides medical clearance to wear a respirator.

Required Use of a Respirator

When a work area has been evaluated and it has been determined that respirator use is required to protect NIH employees, those employees must be enrolled in the RPP. In this case, enrollment is required regardless of the type of respirator intended to be used. The respirator model chosen must be approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)Appropriate respirators are provided to employees by the NIH at no cost to the employee.


Enrollment in the RPP must occur before initial use of a respirator. To enroll:

  1. Contact the OMS office that services your work site and ask to complete a respirator medical clearance questionnaire. OMS will review your completed questionnaire and may schedule a follow-up medical examination. For most respirator users, only an initial clearance is needed. Once this step is complete, the next two steps will then be coordinated through email notifications.

  2. Complete respirator training. Refresher training is required annually thereafter.

  3. Complete respirator fit testing. Fit testing is required annually thereafter. Fit testing is not required for loose-fitting facepiece respirators, such as Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPRs).

To schedule a respirator fit test, send an email to nihrespirator@mail.nih.gov.

Voluntary Use of a Respirator

Even when respirators are not required to be worn in a work area to protect employees, they can provide additional comfort and protection for employees. If an employee desires to wear a respirator on a voluntary basis, this must be discussed with their supervisor and the supervisor should request assistance from the RPP Manager if needed to determine that there are no airborne hazards that would require the use of a respirator. Additionally, the use of the respirator itself must not present a health hazard to the wearer. To ensure this, certain elements of the RPP may need to be implemented, which will vary based on the type of respirator desired to be worn. 

A filtering facepiece respirator (dust mask) is the most common respirator chosen to be worn on a voluntary basis. It is strongly recommended to wear a NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirator (dust mask) which will be labeled with a series of required markings. An "N95 respirator" is the most common particulate filtering facepiece respirator, which refers to the series (N; not resistant to oil) and the efficiency level (95; filters at least 95% of airborne particles). The performance of a dust mask which is not NIOSH-approved may vary, which is why they are not recommended for use, even on a voluntary basis.

If after a discussion with the supervisor and the RPP Manager (if needed) and voluntary use of a filtering facepiece respirator (dust mask) has been permitted, employees must review the information contained in Appendix D of 29 CFR 1910.134, (Mandatory) Information for Employees Using Respirators When Not Required Under the Standard (see link below to review this information).

Voluntary Respirator Use Information and Certification

(Note: This link is only accessible on the NIH intranet.) 

It is important to note that surgical masks do not meet the definition of a respirator but may be considered for wear based upon a hazard analysis of the employee's specific work environment. For instance, in the context of respiratory infection control, surgical masks may be worn to protect a user from splashes of large droplets of blood or body fluids, or by an infected person to trap large particles of body fluids expelled by the wearer. Coincidentally, there are combination products that are NIOSH-approved respirators and have also been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration as a surgical mask. These products are respirators, and so Appendix D information shall be provided to the user prior to voluntary use. 


Voluntary use of any other respirator besides a filtering facepiece (dust mask) (e.g., an elastomeric half-mask with cartridge filters, or a full-face respirator) will require additional program elements. Contact the RPP Manager for assistance in making voluntary respirator use decisions and completing relevant program element requirements associated with their use.

Additional Information

Contact Information

If you have any questions regarding the RPP, please send an email to nihrespirator@mail.nih.gov or call 

(301) 496-2960 and ask for the RPP Manager.

back to the top