OSHA publishes guidelines on facial coverings for workers in hot, humid conditions
Washington — A pair of new guidance documents from OSHA outline measures employers should take to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the risk of heat-related illness among workers wearing cloth facial coverings in hot and humid conditions or performing strenuous tasks.
Workers in outdoor environments who might experience issues include those in construction, landscaping, delivery services, and oil and gas activities. Indoor workers in bakeries, kitchens, mills, foundries, laundries, electric utilities, fire services, manufacturing and warehousing are likely to face these conditions as well.
Both documents – one for indoor workers and the other for outdoor workers – recommend more frequent hydration and rest breaks in shaded, non-enclosed or air conditioned areas for employees working outdoors and cooled environments for those working indoors.
Employers are encouraged to examine the feasibility of wearing cloth facial coverings for every worker and considering alternatives, such as faceshields.
When workers are in close proximity, cloth facial coverings should be prioritized. In addition, implement physical distancing of at least 6 feet between workers in break areas by staggering break times, spacing out employees and limiting the number of workers on break at one time.
- Acclimatize new and returning workers to environmental and work conditions while wearing cloth facial coverings.
- Allow workers to return to their personal vehicles during breaks to use the air conditioning, when possible, but don’t allow multiple workers to use the same vehicle.
- If using fans in the workplace, avoid directing the airflow over multiple workers at the same time, because fans can increase the distance respiratory droplets travel.
- Allow workers to wear personal passive cooling devices (e.g., cooling bandanas and icepack vests) and loose-fitting, breathable clothes – as long as they don’t present a safety hazard.
- Increase frequency of communication to workers and encourage them to monitor themselves and others for signs of heat illness.