Federal OSHA recently issued guidance addressing the use of cloth face masks for reducing the spread of COVID-19 while working in hot, humid environments or while performing strenuous physical activities.
Two guidance documents OSHA issued in September recommend employers encourage the use of cloth face coverings to help prevent spreading the coronavirus while simultaneously addressing the challenge of doing so in hot weather.
According to law firm Seyfarth Shaw, the new guidance documents – “The use of cloth face coverings while working outdoors in hot and humid conditions” and “The use of cloth face coverings while working indoors in hot and humid conditions” – recommend employers:
- acclimatize new and returning workers to environmental conditions while wearing cloth face coverings
- prioritize use of cloth face coverings when work must be done in close proximity to others
- allow workers to remove cloth face coverings when they can safely maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance
- evaluate the feasibility of wearing cloth face coverings for each worker and consider alternatives when appropriate
- increase rest breaks in cool environments and frequency of hydration
- incorporate at least 6 feet of physical distancing into break areas by staggering breaks, spacing workers or limiting the number of workers on break at one time
- encourage workers to use cloth face coverings that optimize fit and comfort and are made from breathable, moisture-wicking materials
- encourage workers to change cloth face coverings when wet since wet coverings make it more difficult to breathe and aren’t as effective
- provide clean replacement cloth face coverings or disposable face masks
- plan for heat emergencies and train workers on heat stress prevention and treatment
- avoid scheduling strenuous tasks during the hottest times of day and adjust shift to cooler parts of the day, if possible
- allow workers to use personal passive cooling devices such as ice vests, and
- communicate more frequently to workers and encourage them to monitor themselves and others for signs of heat illness.