Project WorkSAFE Works to Protect Vermont Nurses

Project WorkSAFE staff administering sensitivity solution during qualitative fit test.
Project WorkSAFE staff administering sensitivity solution during qualitative fit test.

Respiratory protection is often critical when respiratory hazards exist in the workplace. COVID-19 presented a unique situation as it is a transmissible airborne illness with no acceptable exposure limit, not allowing it to be compared to occupational exposure limits. Because of this, exposure risks to respiratory hazards such SARS-CoV-2 can be difficult to address. Additionally, given environmental conditions, staffing shortages due to COVID-19, and the complexity of exposures and controls necessary to limit exposure to this airborne virus, the nursing industry was subject to extraordinary impacts. Due to the impact of COVID-19, the Total Recordable Case (TRC) rates in the healthcare industry increased from 3.8 in 2018 to 5.5 in 2020, a rate increase of 45%.

During the Fall of 2021, Project WorkSAFE, the Vermont OSHA On-site Consultation program, facilitated multiple train-the-trainer courses on respiratory protection for a total of 22 nursing staff from 16 long-term residential facilities. Project WorkSAFE collaborated with other Vermont state government agencies to provide these courses. Training courses were held throughout the state, including the cities of Burlington, Bennington, and White River Junction. Training sessions covered why respiratory protection such as N95 respirators are necessary to protect worker health, qualitative fit testing methods and common errors, as well as a review of respiratory protection program management.

Participating state agencies used COVID-19 emergency relief funds to provide course participants with their own qualitative fit testing kits to use at their facilities. This offered an excellent opportunity for long-term nursing home staff to maintain an effective respiratory protection program as they were able to return to their facilities to conduct their own qualitative fit testing. While access to respiratory protection is important, it is equally important that workers are assured their respiratory protection fits appropriately and provides protection from airborne contaminants such as COVID-19.

The OSHA On-Site Consultation Program offers no-cost and confidential occupational safety and health services to small and medium-sized businesses in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. Consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards and how to fix them, provide advice for compliance with OSHA standards, train and educate workers, and assist in establishing and improving safety and health programs. On-Site Consultation services are separate from OSHA enforcement efforts and do not result in penalties or citations. To locate the OSHA On-Site Consultation program nearest you, call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) or visit