To Mask or Not?
We all want to keep our staff and clients safe. With COVID-19 and return to work, many employers are requiring staff to wear cloth face covering (masks), at times because they are required to do so. It’s important to remember that the CDC as well as local government requirements may give guidance (or even requirements) on the wearing of masks by the employee, but OSHA has a role to play in how that guidance is played out.
What do we know regarding possible legal landscape? In mid March, legal experts were already warning us of a possible increase in work lawsuits hinging on the following questions:
- How is my job description changing due to pandemic?
- Am I offered the use of PPE where my job duties bring me more at risk?
- Have I received the appropriate training in how to safely use PPE as well as safely perform my new job duties?
In light of this, how should we safely “mask” in such a way that limits your employer liability
Here are a few questions:
- Have we developed protocols for which masks can be worn, how to fit them, how to clean them (and how often), specifying which cleansers?
- Have we identified situations in which the masks might constitute a workplace hazard to the staff or clients? (Consider obstruction of vision, use near machinery, or a choking hazard.)
- Have we instructed employees to use employer provided masks only?
- Have we trained employees to safely fit, handle, remove and maintain masks and documented this training? This should include instructions similar to the following:
- Handle mask by the ear loops (not by the mask body).
- Never touch your face (eyes, nose or mouth) when removing masks.
- Wash hands before touching face to remove mask (and afterwards). Wash hands and face before touching face. Wash hands after putting on mask, especially if it’s being reused.
- Treat face masks as potentially infectious material. Store between use (and for transport) in accordance with CDC recommendations, preferably in breathable paper bags rather than in plastic.
- Maintain social distancing with masks, when possible, as the masks only potentially limit the distance the exhaled virus can travel.
- Replace masks when soiled or damp from exhalation.
Finally, it’s extremely important to make certain that employees understand to communicate the need for reasonable accommodation if their medical condition makes it difficult for them to wear masks.
Masks can be helpful, but, as in most situations, there’s a little extra documentation and training that needs to happen to keep their presence a win-win for employers and staff.