Are employers required to provide cloth face coverings to workers?
This is just one of the many frequently asked questions (FAQs) the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has provided answers to regarding the use of face masks in the workplace.
“As our economy reopens for business, millions of Americans will be wearing masks in their workplace for the first time,” said OSHA Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Loren Sweatt. “OSHA is ready to help workers and employers understand how to properly use masks so they can stay safe and healthy in the workplace.”
The new guidance outlines the differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks, and respirators. It further reminds employers not to use surgical masks or cloth face coverings when respirators are needed. 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 guidance on washing face coverings.
These frequently asked questions and answers mark the latest guidance from OSHA addressing protective measures for workplaces during the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, OSHA published numerous guidance documents for workers and employers, including five guidance documents aimed at expanding the availability of respirators. Further information and resources about the coronavirus disease are available on OSHA’s coronavirus webpage.
As for that question above, here’s the official OSHA answer:
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 Occupational Safety and Health Act, requires each employer to furnish to each of his 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.
However, employers may choose to ensure that cloth face coverings are worn as a feasible means of abatement in a control plan designed to address hazards from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Employers may choose to use cloth face coverings as a means of source control, such as because of transmission risk that cannot be controlled through engineering or administrative controls, including social distancing.
Is your organization providing any sort of masks (cloth face coverings, surgical masks, respirators, etc.) to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 in your facility? What other measures has your organization taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19? Do you think these measures are sufficient, or do you need to do more? Please share your plans and thoughts in the Comments section below.