OSHA Revises Its Position on Face Coverings

Written July 28, 2020

Categories: First to Know

In a change of position, the new OSHA FAQs site indicates that OSHA is now generally recommending 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.

This new position aligns OSHA with the CDC recommendation for all people to wear cloth face coverings when in public and around other people. The two agencies have stated that wearing cloth face coverings, if appropriate for the work environment and job tasks, conserves other types of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as surgical masks, for healthcare settings where such equipment is needed most.

OSHA recognizes that 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. For some workers, employers may determine that wearing cloth face coverings presents or exacerbates a hazard. For example, cloth face coverings could become contaminated with chemicals used in the work environment, causing workers to inhale the chemicals that collect on the face covering.

Over the duration of a work shift, cloth face coverings might also become damp (from workers breathing) or collect infectious material from the work environment (e.g., droplets of other peoples’ infectious respiratory secretions). Workers may also need to use PPE that is incompatible with the use of a cloth face covering (e.g., an N95 filtering facepiece respirator). Some face coverings also present a hazard if the employee wears them around moving equipment due to the presence of hanging straps or material that could get caught in machinery.

OSHA concludes that where cloth face coverings are not appropriate in the work environment or during certain job tasks, employers can provide PPE, such as face shields and/or surgical masks, instead of encouraging workers to wear cloth face coverings. Like cloth face coverings, surgical masks and face shields can help contain the wearer’s potentially infectious respiratory droplets and can help limit spread of COVID-19 to others.

There is acknowledgment that face shields alone are not as effective as face coverings or PPE. However, they do provide a level of protection that would not be present if worn. The CDC recommends that if face shields are used without a mask, they should wrap around the sides of the wearer’s face and extend to below the chin. Disposable face shields should only be worn for a single use. Reusable face shields should be cleaned and disinfected after each use.

The CDC also has additional information regarding how to wear face masks, take them off and launder them. The same page has instructions on how to make your own mask.

If you have any further questions, please contact PRINTING United Alliance’s Government Affairs team at govtaffairs@printing.org