At the beginning of the pandemic, the OMS recommended to limit the use of face masks exclusively for health care workers and for people who are sick. As experts continued to study the COVID-19 transmission, now we can say that wearing a mask seems like a social duty.
As states started to reopen their economy, employers have faced different challenges and questions about the best way to return to work, including if it’s appropriate to provide face masks to their employees.
Is the use of masks at the workplace mandatory?
According to PPE OSHA standards, face masks are not considered PPE and are not intended to be used when employees need protection for occupational injuries. Therefore, employers are not required to provide face masks to their employees.
However, the CDC recommendations include the use of face masks in public settings and around other people as a measure that can prevent and reduce the spread of COVID-19. Consistent with this, OSHA recommends employers to encourage their employees to wear face masks as well as determine its use based on the circumstances of the workplace.
In addition to this, numerous states across the country have recommended or even mandated employers to provide face masks to their employees. For example, businesses placed in Alabama must provide face masks strictly for employees in restaurants, personal care services or fitness centers. In California, face masks are required to employees whose activities are performed in common areas such as stairways, elevators and hallways.
The importance of wearing a mask
The main reason for wearing a mask is that it is a physical barrier that helps to prevent the spread of the virus by reducing respiratory droplets that travel into the air. Moreover, in the light of new findings, its use has become relevant because of the high rates of transmissions from people who are infected but show no symptoms.
For instance, the CDC has reported the case of a hair salon in Missouri, where two symptomatic hair stylists tested positive for COVID-19, worked closely with 139 customers. Everyone wore face masks and none of the customers who acceded to testing reported symptoms. These results support the consistent and correct use of face masks to reduce transmission of COVID-19, especially in places where it is not possible to keep social distancing.
Even if your workplace is required to provide face masks to your employees or not, we believe that employers should encourage the use of face covers as a measure to protect employees’ health and maintain a safe workplace environment. Nevertheless, it’s important to say that the use of face masks has to be integrated with other safety measures like hand washing and social distancing.
We have prepared some considerations in order to help employers encourage their employees to wear face masks at their workplaces:
Educate your employees. Teach your employees how to wear face masks and how to dispose of them properly. If you are using reusable face masks or face shields, provide resources to their employees on how to clean/wash them. Also, you can encourage your employees to make their own masks.
Evaluate the work environment conditions and your employees. Some workers can have difficulties when wearing a face mask due to warm temperatures that result in breathing difficulties or the face mask can be contaminated by chemicals. On the other hand, there are people whose medical conditions don’t allow them to wear a face mask. If face masks are not appropriate, you can provide PPE like face shields or talk with your employee and find solutions together.
Be the example. A good way to encourage your employees to wear a face mask is leading by example. Take the initiative and show them that you are truly committed to their health and safety. Actions are worth more than words.
Kwema builds safer workplaces by providing safety wearables to employees who are exposed to potential risks and hazards at their job everyday. Our safety devices activate an emergency protocol alerting safety supervisors or 911, and are designed to avoid adoption hurdles and training costs.
Watch how Kwema is disrupting workplace safety
Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash
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