By Dan Glucksman
ISEA Senior Director of Policy

The Department of Homeland Security is seizing hundreds of thousands of fake respirators and online scammers are wasting users’ time and money with fake websites and empty promises of equipment.

With hospitals (nearly) falling victim to these scams, how can safety pros avoid them?  Follow these recommendations to stay in the clear:

1. Consider the full range of approved solutions, including reusable respirators.

The tight supply of disposable filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs), especially N95 respirators, is well-known, and reusable respirators are immediately available.

Reusable respirators are recommended by both CDC and NIOSH. In fact, CDC states “When possible, NIOSH recommends the use of NIOSH-approved reusable elastomeric respirators and powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) as alternatives to FFRs.”

Reusable respirators, such as full-facepiece and elastomeric half-mask respirators (EHMR) are not facing the type of demand-supply imbalance seen in the FFR market.  Some EHMRs have specially-designed source control features. Employers should check if the EHMR has such features.
Powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs), while known to have a higher first cost have grown in use in workplaces due to their high level of protection, reusable components and because fit-tests are not required when used with loose-fitting head tops or for tight-fitting PAPRs in accordance with the COVID-19-related OSHA Enforcement Memorandum of October 2, 2020.

2. Stay within the supply chain.

Choose a known distributor with a presence in your area.  Distributors with a history and track record of providing PPE, and other products, meeting relevant standards can be trusted to have researched suppliers for you.

Better yet – ask questions, such as: “Has the supplier provided documents, such as the NIOSH approval letter?” This letter is part of the federal certification process. 42 CFR 84.30 states that NIOSH “shall issue certificates of approval pursuant to” successful testing and administrative reviews.

3. Check the Certified Equipment List.

Those wishing to “go it alone” should at least check the NIOSH Certified Equipment List to be extra sure about the respirator.  This way, purchases can check the approval (formally, known as the “TC”) number.  This database also lists the year the approval was granted and some contact information for the manufacturer.

The COVID pandemic has brought new manufacturers of NIOSH-approved respirators into the market. Checking the certified equipment list can help a safety pro verify that these new products are legitimate.

4. Ask for samples.

With samples, employees can conduct their own qualitative checks. Qualitative fit checks are less onerous than quantitative fit tests.  Recent reports note that fake respirators were stiff and not flexible.  Qualitative fit testing is a way to make sure the respirator is comfortable to wear.  If the supplier is unwilling to send samples for evaluation, think twice.

5. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Jobbers and others who have “found” a stockpile of respirators could be selling counterfeit products. Leading respirator manufacturers sell through distribution. Also, respirator manufacturers, who were providing respirators before the pandemic have generally held prices steady. If full payment is required upfront, there is a chance the sale is a scam – buyer beware.

6. Check the ISEA Buyers Guide

On ISEA’s website, you’ll find the industry’s Buyer’s Guide, where leading respiratory protection manufacturers’ phone numbers are listed.  Call to double-check the lot and batch numbers.