As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt daily life and business activity across the country, face masks have emerged as one of the leading ways to cut down the rate of active transmission. In this post, we share information from OSHA in answer to the most common questions business owners and workers have raised. We’re covering everything from the effectiveness of face masks to an employer’s obligation to provide them to their workers.
Are cloth face masks PPE?
With a severe shortage of N95 masks, most workers other than those in the medical field or those who require them for certain types of construction and manufacturing applications have resorted to other forms of face coverings. These face coverings commonly include disposable pleated cotton masks or reusable cloth masks. OSHA does not consider these masks PPE. They offer some protection, but not to the level of true PPE.
Should employers encourage employees to wear face masks while on the job?
OSHA recommends that all employers encourage their workers to wear some form of face covering while at work. This is in line with the CDC’s recommendation that all people wear face masks when in public and around other people.
Must employers provide face masks to their employees?
OSHA only requires that employers provide PPE to workers whose work requires it. Since OSHA doesn’t categorize face masks as PPE, OSHA’s regulations do not obligate employers to provide them. (But it could help your business if you do provide them!)
If workers are wearing face masks, should employers still put social distancing measures in place?
Even if all employees are wearing face masks, employers should continue to enforce policies that encourage social distancing.
If respirators are not available as a result of COVID-19 supply shortages, can surgical face masks or cloth face masks be used instead?
If a respirator is required for the job, the employer must provide one for the employee. Supply shortages do not amend the employer’s obligations to adhere to OSHA standards in any way.
As you navigate the new normal that COVID-19 has ushered into the workplace, OSHA’s COVID-19 FAQ resource contains a wealth of information on face masks, cleaning and disinfecting, and the employer’s obligation to provide a safe working environment.
If you want to learn more about our COVID-related safety consulting service, please give us a call at (864) 979-6676. We’re happy to answer any questions you have.