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OSHA Guidance On Face Coverings And RTW

Posted by Leslie Ruhland on Jun 16, 2020 8:04:24 AM
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Returning to work after the coronavirus shutdown presents a number of challenges and issues for businesses. Among these is the matter of wearing masks to work.



On Wednesday, June 10, 2020, the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a series of FAQs regarding the use of face coverings in the workplace due to COVID-19. This includes cloth coverings, surgical masks, and respirators.

The information is the most recent guidance from OSHA addressing protective measures for workplaces during the pandemic and takes into account that as many workers may be wearing masks in the workplace for the first time.

Cloth Coverings, Surgical Masks, and Respirators

The new FAQs first address key differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks, and respirators.

The OSHA guidance notes that 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 SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Coronavirus Disease 2019 (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.

OSHA explains that surgical masks:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Should be properly disposed of after use.

Regarding respirators, the OSHA guidance states that these devices:

  • 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).
    • Need proper filter material (e.g., 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.

Have questions about labor laws in California? Check out our free guide.

Thinking About Personal Protective Equipment at Work

OSHA points out that employers are not required to provide cloth face coverings, but can do so in order to help facilitate controlling the spread of COVID-19 in their workplaces. The agency’s guidance explains that an employer can have workers use cloth face coverings "as a means of source control" when the risk of transmission can’t be controlled by enforcing social distancing, using physical barriers, or through other methods.

An article from the law firm Littler LLP points out that,

“OSHA further reminds employers that the General Duty Clause under the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires each employer to furnish a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Therefore, employers may decide to use a combination of engineering controls, administrative controls, as well as safe work practices such as social distancing and cloth face coverings (when actual PPE is not required for the particular working conditions). OSHA states that it ‘generally recommends that employers encourage workers to wear face coverings at work’ particularly to help wearers who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic from spreading the virus.”

Regarding the question as to whether employers are required to provide face covering for employees, OSHA’s recent guidance states that,

“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.”

However, the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, requires that each employer furnish each employee,

“[E]mployment 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.”

OSHA notes, too, that cloth face coverings are not a substitute for other practices such as social distancing measures.

Getting Guidance for Your Workplace Management Needs

In addition to HR management best practices and labor law compliance, we can offer online payroll software for your payroll process - a great option for staying in compliance on the payroll front.

Another "best practice" is to consider outsourcing.

This can be done by simply outsourcing one process such as payroll. However, with a full-service provider such as Accuchex, you also have additional options for outsourcing as well.

Let Accuchex help you in managing your HR needs, payroll processes, and staying on top of compliance demands. Get your Free Download: Payroll Outsourcing Guide to help you make an informed decision or call Accuchex Payroll Management Services at 877-422-2824.



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Topics: labor law compliance, OSHA, COVID-19, return to work, health and safety

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