In light of the fluctuating compliance standards surrounding COVID-19, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) continues to issue actionable advice on virus containment and best workforce management practices for controlling ongoing health risks to hourly workers. In a recent update, the subject of whether or not employers can require face masks was once again re-opened.
OSHA has maintained its position that employers should encourage employees to wear face coverings at worksites and factory locations in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, the latest guidance has also added that employers may decide not to depending on the type of masks involved, whether wearing masks creates other immediate hazards, and whether or not an employer can meet the required accommodations necessary for implementing an effective, voluntary mask policy.
Let’s take a closer look at OSHA’s insights on mask compliance as you endeavor to safely bring employees back to work.
Clarification on Cloth vs. N95 Masks
In order to understand the impact of this latest update on your hourly workforce, we need to clarify a few points. OSHA’s update explained that cloth masks are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE) and are not, therefore, subject to federal requirements such as training or fit testing. They also iterated that cloth masks are not to be used in place of N95 masks (which are considered PPE and come with additional compliance requirements). It is important, therefore, to distinguish between the two in terms of achieving compliance.
What does this mean for your operation?
- As an employer, you need to first determine whether or not your business falls into one of the industries which requires N95 masks (check with the NPPTL) and whether or not your state has additional mask requirements.
- If you do have face mask requirements: assure your employees that you will be providing effective masks in defense against COVID-19 and will follow all mandated protocols related to PPE for your industry. In situations where PPE is required but unavailable, remember that work must cease until proper or alternative measures can be taken.
- If you do not have face mask requirements: determine what level of mask-wearing is feasible and most ideal for your workforce. If you decide to implement a formal mask policy (recommended by the CDC), you will need to double check your workforce management policies and subsequent actions are fully compliant and manage all possible risks involved.
In addition to determining a formally mandatory or voluntary face mask policy (based on the aforementioned process), you will also need to prepare for mask-related hazards, reasonable accommodation requests, and other operational changes!
Face Covering Accommodation Suggestions
Again, employers must assess whether requiring employees to wear cloth masks creates more on-hand risks for certain roles and choose whether or not to forego the requirement (provided N95s aren’t federally required for your industry). OSHA has recommended employers conduct a hazard assessment for each role within your business to determine how each position could be impacted by wearing masks before finalizing your policies.
Consider the following situations and prepare accordingly:
- Increased risk of other hazards: Face-coverings could become contaminated with chemicals used in your particular work environment, get caught in machinery, or become damp and absorb infectious materials from the environment which shouldn’t be breathed. In these situations, social distancing and adding partitions could become a necessary alternative.
- Inhibits speechreading: Situations where a cloth face mask can also interfere with communication for employees who rely on lip reading, or speechreading, can also require unique accommodations such as mask modifications. In those cases, use masks with clear plastic windows around the mouth.
- Exacerbating pre-existing health problems: Cases in which wearing a mask could worsen health problems for employees who already have trouble breathing or with overheating could also require accommodations. In these situations, employers should consider providing a clear face shield or allowing the employee to work in a location away from others.
- Risks discrimination against an employee: Where an employee with a disability needs a reasonable accommodation under the ADA or a religious accommodation under Title VII (such as modified equipment for religious apparel), discuss the request and provide a modified or alternative option without exception.
Employers must be prepared to work with their employees as a result of implementing a mask policy for their organization.
HR Consulting with EPAY Systems
At EPAY Systems, we help employers like you with technological solutions and workforce management policies necessary for overcoming industry-related problems and evolving compliance in today’s challenging landscape. In addition to our Human Capital Management platform, we provide access to HR Consulting with our team of certified HR specialists, monthly webinars, and downloadable assets for crafting effective policies.
Check out our Employee Handbook Addendum for dealing with COVID-19, or request a demo of our solution today!