UPDATE July 8: On June 28, the CDC issued updated guidance emphasizing the important of wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The CDC recommends that everyone—not just those who know they have COVID-19—wear cloth face-coverings in public. States including New York and Pennsylvania are now mandating this for all public areas. They have been joined by a growing number of private companies, including Walmart. Masks and face-coverings will likely play a big role in the coming months. Here’s what you need to know.
Coronavirus Masks: Changing Evidence
As our understanding of COVID evolves, there’s been a lot of debate about the effectiveness and best use of masks. Initially, masks were seen as necessary for healthcare workers but overkill for the general public. Now there’s a growing consensus that masks and face coverings can help prevent the spread of coronavirus, which will become even more important as we return to work. Even a little extra protection can prove crucial, but the quality of masks varies, and the type required depends on what kind of work employees do. Here’s what you need to know.
Assessing COVID-19 Risk
The first step is for employers to establish the risk level for any employee.
High Risk employees have a high chance of being exposed to COVID-19. This includes the healthcare industry, nursing homes and laboratory settings. Employers in this category should follow industry-specific specific guidelines on Personal Protective Equipment.
Medium Risk employees are regularly within 6 feet of individuals who could have COVID-19. In much of America, where there is sustained community transmission, this essentially means employees who deal with the general public. Masks are highly recommended.
Low Risk employees are not regularly required to be within 6 feet of customers or co-workers. Cloth face-coverings are recommended for entry and exit and any common areas.
Remember, masks are not a replacement for social distancing. And for the most part, employees who can work from home should. For those who can’t, it’s the employer’s responsibility to create a safe working environment.
Can Employers Mandate Masks?
It IS legal for businesses to require that employees wear masks. However, employers need to be aware that mandating masks may make them subject to OSHA standards related to Personal Protective Equipment, which means they must:
- Carry out a hazard assessment
- Consider alternatives (like plexiglass)
- Provide the masks
- Train employees how to wear masks
- Clean and maintain masks
- Cover all associated costs
There are further, more stringent rules covering the use of ‘respirator’ masks.
What If Employees Don’t Want to Wear Masks?
Certain employees may have health conditions which don’t allow them to easily wear a mask—if so, they should be excused from high-risk and medium-risk roles. However, in all other cases employees should not be permitted to work without the required mask or face-covering. This is not just about their safety, it’s about the safety of their colleagues and their communities.
Common Varieties of Mask
Different industries and job roles will require different standards of masks. Here are the most common types:
- ‘Respirators’ (including N95s)
- Medical/Surgical Masks
- Cloth Face-Covering
A respirator is a high-level, tight-fitted mask suitably to the riskiest environments. They often feature a vent that allows for external air flow. If that’s the case, they should not be worn around those who are not wearing a mask.
Easy to recognize—these are usually blue or green. They are made of several layers of thin fabric and designed to be used only once. However, their looser fit makes them less effective than N95s and so they aren’t suitable for extensive use around those known to have the virus.
These can be purchased or made at home from cotton material. According to CDC guidance, an effective cloth face covering will:
- fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
- be secured with ties or ear loops
- include multiple layers of fabric
- allow for breathing without restriction
- be able to be laundered and machine-dried without damage or change to shape
Download a COVID-19 Workplace Mask Policy Letter
Workplace mask policies can save lives, help employees feel safer and allow businesses to thrive during this crisis. To help small to medium sized businesses, Paycor is sharing a customizable Workplace Mask policy template.
Access Workplace Mask Policy Template
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