Workplace Standards on Wearing Face Masks Indoors and Outdoors
September 18, 2020
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has several new standards in place for preventing risks related to COVID-19 transmission in both indoor and outdoor workplaces. COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory illness that passes between people primarily from respiratory droplets produced by coughs, sneezes, and speaking. OSHA has tips for employers on how to make the transition as easy and comfortable as possible for workers adjusting to their new normal.
OSHA’s Tips for Indoor and Outdoor Workers
Working indoors and wearing facemasks or coverings can be uncomfortable because of temperature or from performing strenuous workplace activities typically related to electric utility, fire service, baking, laundry, kitchen, mill, foundry, manufacturing, or warehouse work. OSHA recommends that employers follow particular practices to protect workers from spreading COVID-19 as well as to prevent heat-related illnesses (e.g. heat stress and heat stroke) from occurring. Employers of indoor worker can take the following steps to promote comfortable mask and face covering wearing between employees:
- Prioritize using a face covering whenever workers are in close contact (less than six feet of distance) with one another, or during group travel or shift meetings
- Allow both new and returning workers to acclimate to the work and environmental conditions of wearing a facemask or covering. For example, allow workers to remove face masks when they are maintaining a minimum of 6 feet of physical distance from other workers
- Consider alternative, such as face shields, for workers when it is appropriate
- Give workers additional breaks and regularly remind workers to stay hydrated
- Create at least 6 feet of physical distance between people in break areas by staggering break times, installing physical boundaries, and limiting the number of workers on break whenever possible
Just like indoor workers, outdoor workers who are employed in the agriculture, construction, gas and oil, landscaping, and delivery industries may also experience slight bouts of discomfort when transitioning to wearing masks in the workplace. OSHA’s tips for indoor workers are the same for outdoor workers: give them time to adjust to their work environment, ensure that workers maintain minimum social distancing requirements, allow the removal of face coverings when there is sufficient space between workers, and create physical spaces for safely distanced breaks.
Indoor and outdoor workers should also be wary of the signs of heat emergencies, such as when a worker experiences an illness like heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Employers also must remember that facemasks and coverings do not act as a substitute for providing adequate personal protective equipment, or PPE, to workers. Some other effective control methods that employers should use to protect workers from potential COVID-19-related complications in indoor and outdoor workplaces includes:
- Planning for heat emergencies and training workers on heat stress prevention and treatment tips
- Encouraging workers to monitor themselves and others for signs of heat-related illnesses
- Avoid scheduling strenuous tasks during the hottest parts of the day. Instead, schedule physically difficult work activities during the cooler parts of the day whenever it is possible
- Try to have workers change their face covering whenever they are wet. A wet face covering can make it difficult to breathe and is not as effective in preventing transmission as a clean and dry covering is
Every employer needs to take steps to protect workers, perhaps even more now than ever before. If your workplace failed to enact effective control methods for limiting the known risks associated with COVID-19, a representative at our firm may be able to help. To learn more, contact a representative online now.
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