OSHA issues updated FAQ confirming cloth face coverings and general masks worn re coronavirus are not PPE

OSHA issued an updated FAQ re cloth face coverings and the kind of masks commonly worn regarding coronavirus (called “surgical” masks by OSHA, as distinguished from what it calls “respirators (e.g., filtering face pieces)”).

OSHA explains that cloth face coverings are worn, not to protect the wearer, but to reduce the expression of virus by the wearer, what OSHA calls “source control.”

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.

As such, OSHA says, cloth face coverings are not PPE and need not be provided by or paid for by an employer. Likewise surgical masks and even respirators, when worn for source control, are not PPE and need not be provided by or paid for by an employer.

Cloth face coverings are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE) and are not intended to be used when workers need PPE for protection against exposure to occupational hazards. As such, OSHA’s PPE standards do not require employers to provide them.

Although not required by OSHA, “OSHA generally recommends that employers encourage workers to wear face coverings at work.” In addition, even when cloth face coverings are encouraged, OSHA also recommends that employers encourage social distancing in the workplace. (Note: Employers should remember OSHA is only one source of applicable law. Employers need to comply with all applicable laws, some of which, especially at the state and local level, do mandate social distancing, de-densifying, and even cloth face coverings.)

OSHA’s FAQ reminds employers that some companies must provide masks and even respirators as PPE, for example healthcare employers whose workers are known to be exposed to coronavirus. Likewise OSHA reminds all employers they face a General Duty citation if they fail to take feasible and effective means to eliminate a recognized hazard in the workplace; OSHA’s FAQ suggests it may rely upon evidence to include the failure of an employer to encourage the use of cloth face coverings or surgical masks and the practice of social distancing.

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