Yesterday morning, I posted on LinkedIn new guidance from OSHA on the use of masks in the workplace. Specifically, it was this series of frequently asked questions and answers relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Let’s break it down a little further for you.
First, let’s start with what’s not in the guidance; namely, an edict that all employers require all employees to wear masks — even just cloth face coverings. Indeed, OSHA clarifies here that OSHA’s personal protective equipment standards do not require employers to provide them because cloth face coverings are not considered PPE.
While cloth face masks may not be a requirement, OSHA generally recommends that employers encourage workers to wear face coverings at work to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The CDC provides guidance on washing face coverings. OSHA suggests following those recommendations, and always washing or discarding cloth face coverings that are visibly soiled. Additionally, where cloth face coverings are not appropriate in the work environment or during certain job tasks, employers can provide PPE, such as face shields or surgical masks. (More on OSHA’s PPE standards here). However, these items are no substitute when employees need respirators in the construction industry, for example.
Finally, what about social distancing? Is wearing a cloth face covering at work a substitute for social distancing measures? No, masks and social distancing go together.
Ultimately, OSHA clarifies that its new guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. It contains recommendations as well as descriptions of mandatory safety and health standards. However, OSHA does require employers to comply with safety and health standards and regulations promulgated by OSHA or by a state with an OSHA-approved state plan. Plus, OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
Additionally, many states either strongly recommend or require the use of face masks in certain workplace settings. So, be sure to check with your outside employment counsel to ensure that your business satisfies those requirements.