Thursday, June 11, 2020

Coronavirus Update 6–11–2020: OSHA issues guidance on cloth face coverings at work

I continue to struggle with comprehending how masks and facial coverings became one of the key coronavirus issues that's divided our nation. Click here for the latest actual science on the issue of whether masks help stop the spread of COVID-19. (TL;DR: they most certainly do.)

OSHA has now waded into the mix by issuing a list of Frequently Asked Questions on cloth face coverings.

The highlights? 

Are employers required to provide cloth face coverings to workers?

No, OSHA does not require that employers provide cloth face coverings to employees, because they do not qualify as personal protective equipment to protect workers against exposure to occupational hazards. However, OSHA's General Duty Clause requires each employer to furnish to each of its employees employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. If an employer cannot reasonably control, through social distancing and other administrative controls, asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic COVID-19-positive employees from spreading potentially infectious respiratory droplets to others, the General Duty Clause might impose an obligation upon an employer to mandate cloth face coverings.

Should workers wear a cloth face covering while at work, in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation for all people to do so when in public?

Consistent with the CDC's recommendation, OSHA also recommends that employers encourage workers to wear face coverings at work. Subject to state and local laws, employers have the discretion to determine whether to allow employees to wear cloth face coverings in the workplace, based on other considerations such as safety, environmental and workplace hazards, and the medical needs of an employee. Where cloth face coverings are not appropriate in the work environment or during certain job tasks, employers should consider providing PPE, such as face shields and/or surgical masks, instead of encouraging workers to wear cloth face coverings.

If workers wear cloth face coverings, do employers still need to ensure social distancing measures in the workplace?

Yes. Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing measures.

Also, don't forget, subject to limited exceptions, Ohio's reopening rules require that all employees wear masks while working.

Finally, since the mask issue is so divisive, I've created a short, two-question survey about people's use of masks when out in public. Please take a moment of your time to answer the one multiple-choice question and share an optional comment.