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COVID-19 Guidance: OSHA Recommends Facemasks at Work

Updated: Oct 28, 2020

According to an article published on July 16, 2020 by The National Law Review, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published new guidance on creating safer workplaces during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Below are several answers to commonly asked questions related to workplace safety, including the question of whether employers should encourage employees to wear facemasks at work.

Are employers required to provide facemasks as a form of PPE?

No. Unlike surgical masks and NIOSH-approved filtering respirators (e.g. N-95 respirators), which are designed to protect against specific airborne health hazards, cloth facemasks are not considered to be a type of PPE (personal protective equipment) by OSHA. This means cloth facemasks do not fall under OSHA's PPE standards and therefore employers are not required to provide facemasks for employees as a type of protection against coronavirus.

But are facemasks still a good idea at work?

Yes. Although cloth facemasks are not technically considered PPE, OSHA does still recommend that employers encourage staff to wear facemasks at work to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. In cases where facemasks are not appropriate for the workplace environment (e.g., because they may become contaminated with chemicals or infectious material), employers should provide PPE, such as face shields and/or surgical masks.

Is social distancing still required at work?

Yes. OSHA has reiterated that facemasks are not a substitute for social distancing measures. Close contact between employees is still highly discouraged, especially in areas with high rates of infection. Although OSHA has not mandated the use of facemasks at work, it is still highly recommended as a way to reduce risk. (When everyone inside a building wears a facemask, the risk of spreading infection may be reduced). When appropriate within the work environment, employees should wear facemasks while at work. Keep in mind that state and local laws may supersede federal OSHA guidance, i.e. city, county, and/or state directives may require individuals to wear facemasks while in public, including the workplace.

The following states are currently operating under facemask mandates:

  • Connecticut

  • Delaware

  • Hawaii

  • Illinois

  • Kansas

  • Kentucky

  • Louisiana

  • Maine

  • Maryland

  • Massachusetts

  • Michigan

  • Nevada

  • New Jersey

  • New Mexico

  • New York

  • North Carolina

  • Ohio

  • Oregon

  • Pennsylvania

  • Rhode Island

  • Texas

  • Virginia

  • Washington

  • West Virginia

Outside of these states, some municipal governments and local public health departments have dictated the extent to which facemasks must be worn, so it's important to be aware of local public safety guidelines.

Employers are encouraged to consult legal counsel if they are concerned about being in compliance with regional laws and regulations.

If you have questions or concerns about occupational health and safety, or you would like assistance with assessing/improving your cleaning protocols to better protect employees, contact Higgins and Associates for a free consultation with an EHS professional.

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