OSHA has issued a video to guide workers in putting on and taking off masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards (in general industry, 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I), require using gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection when job hazards warrant it.
When respirators are necessary to protect workers, employers must implement a comprehensive respiratory protection program in accordance with the Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134).
The General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970, 29 USC 654(a)(1), requires employers to furnish to each worker “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.”
Under the OSHA PPE Standard, which applies to all PPE (e.g., face masks, gloves, smocks, etc.), before an employer can require an employee to put on PPE, such a face mask, the employer must, among other things:
- Perform a hazard assessment;
- Consider other alternative options to protect employees (e.g., install plexiglass barriers between the worker and the customer in a retail business, as some grocery stores have done);
- Identify and provide appropriate PPE for employees;
- Train employees in the use and care of PPE;
- Clean and maintain PPE, including replacing worn or damaged PPE; and
- Prepare a plan that is periodically reviewed, among other steps, including employee-specific requirements.
The employer pays all costs for the PPE as well.
According to the CDC, a face covering is not necessarily meant to protect the wearer from others. Rather, the intention is to prevent a possibly asymptomatic person from unknowingly transmitting the virus to others.
As the CDC has cautioned, face coverings are just one protective measure, and not a substitute for social distancing, personal hygiene, and additional cleaning protocols.
In general, where an employer becomes aware that a worker is actively symptomatic for COVID-19, steps should be taken to exclude that worker from the workplace as well as to identify others who may have been exposed, and to develop an appropriate return-to-work plan when the worker’s symptoms have resolved.