getting back to work covid-19
COVID-19 | Jun 24, 2020

COVID-19 Forward: Questions about masks, distancing and more…

COVID-19 Forward: Questions about masks, distancing and more…

Workplace FAQ’s
With OSHA guidance

As the national economy reopens, an unprecedented number of workers will be required to wear faces masks in the workplace for the first time. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (the Act), employers must provide a safe work environment for their workers. For many, this will include properly training workers on how to adequately use face masks at work.

To help with this requirement, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published a series of answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding the use of masks in the workplace. The new guidance outlines the differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks and respirators. The FAQs also remind employers not to use surgical masks or cloth face coverings when respirators are needed.

Employers should become familiar with this guidance and train their employees on the proper use of face coverings, surgical masks, respirators and other personal protective equipment.

In addition, the guidance notes the need for social distancing measures, even when workers are wearing cloth face coverings, and recommends following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidance on washing face coverings.

FAQ during this next phase
of re-opening after COVID-19

1. What are the key differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks and respirators?

Cloth face coverings:

  • May be commercially produced or improvised (i.e., homemade) garments, scarves, bandanas or items made from t-shirts or other fabrics.
  • Are worn in public over the nose and mouth to contain the wearer’s potentially infectious respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks and to limit the spread of COVID-19, to others.
  • Are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Will not protect the wearer against airborne transmissible infectious agents, due to loose fit and lack of seal or inadequate filtration.
  • Are not appropriate substitutes for PPE such as respirators (such as N95 respirators) or medical face masks (such as surgical masks) in workplaces where respirators or face masks are recommended or required to protect the wearer.
  • May be used by almost any worker, although those who have trouble breathing or are otherwise unable to put on or remove a mask without assistance should not wear one.
  • May be disposable or reusable after proper washing.

Surgical masks:

  • Are typically cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as medical devices (though not all devices that look like surgical masks are actually medical-grade, cleared devices).
  • Are used to protect workers against splashes and sprays (i.e., droplets) containing potentially infectious materials. In this capacity, surgical masks are considered PPE. Under OSHA’s PPE standard (29 CFR 1910.132), employers must provide any necessary PPE at no cost to workers. If surgical masks are being used onlyas source control—not to protect workers against splashes and sprays (i.e., droplets) containing potentially infectious materials—OSHA’s PPE standards do not require employers to provide them to workers. However, the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, requires each employer to furnish to each of its employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Control measures may include a combination of engineering and administrative controls, including safe work practices like social distancing. Choosing to ensure use of surgical masks for source control may constitute a feasible means of abatement as part of a control plan designed to address hazards from COVID-19.
  • May also be worn to contain the wearer’s respiratory droplets (for example, healthcare workers, such as surgeons, wear them to avoid contaminating surgical sites, and dentists and dental hygienists wear them to protect patients).
  • Should be placed on sick individuals to prevent the transmission of respiratory infections that spread by large droplets.
  • Will not protect the wearer against airborne transmissible infectious agents, due to loose fit and lack of seal or inadequate filtration.
  • May be used by almost anyone.
  • Should be properly disposed of after use.

Respirators (filtering facepieces):

    • Are used to prevent workers from inhaling small particles, including airborne transmissible or aerosolized infectious agents.
    • Must be provided and used in accordance with OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134).
      • Must be certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Please note that OSHA has temporarily exercised its enforcement discretionconcerning supply shortages of disposable filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs), including as it relates to their extended use or reuseuse beyond their manufacturer’s recommended shelf lifeuse of equipment from certain other countries and jurisdictions, and decontamination.
      • Need proper filter material (N95 or better) and, other than for loose-fitting powered, air purifying respirators (PAPRs), tight fit (to prevent air leaks).
      • Require proper training, fit testing, availability of appropriate medical evaluations and monitoring, cleaning, and oversight by a knowledgeable staff member. OSHA has temporarily exercised its enforcement discretionconcerning annual fit testing requirements in the Respiratory Protection Standard, as long as employers have made good-faith efforts to comply with the requirements of the standard and to follow the steps outlined in the March 14, 2020, and April 8, 2020, memoranda (as applicable to their industry).
      • When necessary to protect workers, require a respiratory protection program that is compliant with OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard). OSHA consultation staff can assist with understanding respiratory protection requirements.
      • FFRs may be used voluntarily, if permitted by the employer. If an employer permits voluntary use of FFRs, employees must receive the information contained in Appendix Dof OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard.

2. Are employers required to provide cloth face coverings to workers?

Cloth face coverings are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE) and are not intended to be used when workers need PPE for protection against exposure to occupational hazards. As such, OSHA’s PPE standards do not require employers to provide them.

  • The General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Act, requires each employer to furnish to each of his or her employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Control measures may include a combination of engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices like social distancing, and PPE.

3. Should workers wear a cloth face covering while at work, in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation for all people to do so when in public?

OSHA generally recommends that employers encourage workers to wear face coverings at work. Face coverings are intended to prevent wearers who have COVID-19 without knowing it (i.e., those who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic) from spreading potentially infectious respiratory droplets to others. This is known as source control.

Employers have the discretion to determine whether to allow employees to wear cloth face coverings in the workplace based on the specific circumstances present at the work site.

Where cloth face coverings are not appropriate in the work environment or during certain job tasks (e.g., because they could become contaminated or exacerbate heat illness), employers can provide PPE, such as face shields and/or surgical masks, instead of encouraging workers to wear cloth face coverings.

Note that cloth face coverings are not considered PPE and cannot be used in place of respirators when respirators are otherwise required.

Learn more about cloth face coverings on the CDC website.

Employers should consider evaluating their accessible communication policies and procedures to factor in potentially providing masks with clear windows to facilitate interaction between employees and members of the public who need to lip-read to communicate.

4. If workers wear cloth face coverings, do employers still need to ensure social distancing measures in the workplace?

Yes. Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing measures.

5. If I wear a reusable cloth face covering, how should I keep it clean?

CDC provides guidance on washing face coverings. OSHA suggests following those recommendations, and always washing or discarding cloth face coverings that are visibly soiled.

6. Are surgical masks or cloth face coverings acceptable respiratory protection in the construction industry, when respirators would be needed but are not available because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

No. Employers must not use surgical masks or cloth face coverings when respirators are needed.

When respirators are needed, OSHA’s guidance describes enforcement discretion around use of respirators, including in situations in which it may be necessary to extend the use of or reuse certain respirators, use respirators beyond their manufacturer’s recommended shelf life, and/or use respirators certified under the standards of other countries or jurisdictions.

For more detailed support and explanation, visit the  OSHA website.

For more information regarding HR policies during the COVID-19 crisis, or other HR needs, contact MyHRConcierge at 1-855-538-6947 x.108 or email ccooley@myhrconcierge.com.

 

The HR and business professionals at MyHRConcierge are here to respond to your questions and concerns, and keep small to medium-sized businesses compliant with federal and state labor laws. Delivering personal service to our Partners and Clients is the heart and soul of our business.