Cloth face coverings mandates are popping up all around the country. Face coverings are intended to prevent wearers who have COVID-19 but are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic from spreading the virus.
What do employers need to know about cloth face coverings for employees?
OSHA’s recommendation is that “all people wear cloth face coverings when in public and around other people and if appropriate for the work environment and job tasks.” Cloth masks are also not a substitution for social distancing.
Specific OSHA guidelines on cloth face coverings do not exist. They leave it up to the employer to decide if wearing one creates additional hazards. For instance, a cloth face covering is not appropriate if an employee is wearing a respirator (and it’s not a substitute) and may not be safe if it becomes contaminated with chemicals or excess dust. However, according to Dianne Grote Adams, President of Safex, “for instances where a cloth face covering is absorbing chemicals or excess dust, the employer should address the initial potential work exposure first.”
Industrial hygienist Ashley Griesenbrock on the job.
Surgical masks or face shields may also be considered to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in circumstances where cloth face coverings create or increase hazards. (Although they should be conserved for medical professionals when needed most.)
The use of cloth face covers may create issues for those who read lips, so OSHA encourages employers to “potentially provide masks with clear windows.”
Employers should also know that because cloth face coverings are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE), they are not required to furnish them. Furthermore, employers who require their use should ensure that employees know how to regularly clean them.
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