As businesses reopen following the lifting of COVID-19 lockdowns, employers are implementing a range of measures intended to minimize the risk of workplace spread of the virus, including cleaning, social distancing, and mandatory mask usage. On Wednesday, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration released a Q&A document for employers on using masks in the workplace. While the guidance does not impose new legal requirements, it provides a general explanation of mask use under OSHA safety rules.
The guidance relies on CDC guidelines. It explains the difference between cloth and surgical masks, as well as respirators. OSHA makes clear that cloth or surgical masks cannot be used in situations where occupational safety and health standards require respirators. If reusable cloth masks are used, OSHA provides guidance on washing them. OSHA also makes clear that mask usage does not substitute for social distancing and other infection control measures.
Cloth and surgical masks are not OSHA-required personal protective equipment (PPE) that must be provided by the employer. However, many employers are incorporating mask use as part of their COVID-19 response plans. The new guidance can be found here.