As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in many parts of the U.S., a growing number of states and municipalities have implemented orders requiring the use of masks in public. Last week, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued new guidance recommending that employers require masks to be worn by employees. The guidance is part of a revised question-and-answer section that is included in OSHA’s COVID-19 resource materials.
The new guidance states: “OSHA generally recommends that employers encourage workers to wear face coverings at work. Face coverings are intended to prevent wearers who have Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) without knowing it (i.e., those who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic) from spreading potentially infectious respiratory droplets to others. This is known as source control.” OSHA goes on to explain circumstances where mask wearing might not be appropriate in the workplace. These include situations where a mask could become contaminated with chemicals used in the workplace, or where use of a cloth mask would interfere with the performance of a mandated respirator.
The new guidance is not mandatory, meaning that OSHA will not cite employers just because they fail to implement a mask requirement. However, companies that demonstrate a failure to take steps designed to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace face possible “General Duty Clause” citations. Employers may want to consider expanding mask requirements to customers and visitors. OSHA reports that it has received a growing number of complaints from employees concerned over the potential for infection from third parties not subject to control measures imposed on employees.