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Face Masks and Respirators in the Workplace

Blog - Pile of Blue Hospital Masks

As the national economy reopens, an unprecedented number of workers will be required to wear face masks in the workplace for the first time.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (the Act), employers must provide a safe work environment for their workers. For many, this includes properly training workers on how to adequately use face masks at work.

To help with this requirement, OSHA has published a series of answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding the use of masks in the workplace. The new guidance outlines the differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks and respirators. The FAQs also remind employers not to use surgical masks or cloth face coverings when respirators are needed.

Here are the key takeaways:

  • Cloth face coverings are not considered PPE, and employers are not required to provide them.
  • OSHA generally recommends that employers encourage workers to wear face coverings at work.
  • Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing measures.
  • OSHA suggests following CDC recommendations, and always washing or discarding cloth face coverings that are visibly soiled.
  • Employers must not 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 (CDC) guidance on washing face coverings.

Employers should become familiar with this OSHA guidance and train their employees on the proper use of face coverings, surgical masks, respirators and other personal protective equipment.

Employers are encouraged to review other COVID-19 safety guidance by visiting the OSHA Coronavirus website. For additional workplace guidance, speak with Dansig.