Guidance on safety and performance specifications for filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) during COVID-19: Background 

Published: August 25, 2020
Updated: February 2, 2021

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Overview of this guidance document

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic in March 2020 and the Minister of Health signed the Interim Order Respecting the Importation and Sale of Medical Devices for Use in Relation to COVID-19 on March 18, 2020. A second Interim Order was introduced on March 1, 2021 and replaced the first one. The Interim Order (IO) expedites the authorization of Class I to IV medical devices used for COVID-19.

Sustainability

The Government of Canada encourages manufacturers to consider the use of recycled fibres/fabrics, recyclable and/or sustainable components in the development of Canadian respirators.

Scope

This guidance document only deals with FFRs that cover the nose and mouth (partial or half FFRs). It does not address other types of particulate filtering respirators, such as full facepiece respirators or powered air-purifying respirators. It also does not offer recommendations for users.

The guidance document also outlines other requirements, such as:

These minimum requirements are to be followed until a more formal Canadian national FFR standard and complimentary certification process is developed. However, any certification process would not exempt respirators from Health Canada’s regulatory requirements.

Along with single-use FFRs, we also provide guidance for filtering half-facepiece elastomeric respirators that can be reused. These types of respirators do not have exhalation valves. They may be used instead of single-use half-facepiece filtering respirators during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reusable respirators are tight-fitting half- or full-facepiece elastomeric respirators that:

Certification of FFRs

N95, N99 and N100 respirators are FFRs certified by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). FFRs were developed mainly to filter out airborne particulates of a certain size and for use in an industrial setting.

Of these 3 respirators, N95 respirators have been adopted for use in health care settings as protection against influenza and infectious diseases (for example, tuberculosis). WHO’s interim guidance and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) both indicate that N95 respirators can be used to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Canada’s national standard, CAN/CSA-Z94.4-18, outlines the selection, use and care of respirators. This standard is based on NIOSH testing and quality requirements. Many employers are familiar with, trust and therefore favour NIOSH-certified respirators. For this reason, the demand for NIOSH-certified FFRs has surpassed supply during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This respirator guidance is in effect until:

The CSA Group announced the first step in this goal on October 19, 2020. It is setting up an accredited, special-purpose lab dedicated to testing and certifying respirators.

All manufacturers, including those already granted an IO authorization, will be expected to certify FFRs within 6 months of receiving their authorization. Certification will be through a certification program such as the one recently developed by the CSA Group.

Provinces and health care institutions are encouraged to adopt a program that allows for Canadian-certified respirators. This will assure the quality and performance of their FFRs.

The use of this guidance by Canadian manufacturers, and the designation of a “PFE” particulate filter efficiency level, has been prescribed for manufacturers without NIOSH certification but are instead tested in Canadian laboratories (including at NRC, CSA or other SCC-accredited facilities).

Note about guidance documents in general

Guidance documents provide assistance to industry and health care professionals on how to comply with governing statutes and regulations. They also provide guidance to Health Canada staff on how mandates and objectives should be met fairly, consistently and effectively.

Guidance documents are administrative, not legal, instruments. This means that flexibility can be applied by industry. However, to be acceptable, alternate approaches to the principles and practices described in this document must be supported by adequate justification. They should be discussed in advance with the relevant program area to avoid the possible finding that applicable statutory or regulatory requirements have not been met.

As always, Health Canada reserves the right to request information or material, or define conditions not specifically described in this document, to help us adequately assess the safety, efficacy or quality of a therapeutic product. We must make sure that such requests are justifiable and that decisions are clearly documented.

Health Canada has also published a guidance document to help manufacturers prepare applications submitted under the IO. This guidance document should be read with this document.

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