With workers in many parts of North America still required to wear face coverings or masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has provided a number of resources to assist employers and employees on their proper use.
One of the agency's guidance documents discusses the use of cloth face coverings while working indoors in hot and humid conditions. According to OSHA, employers should observe the following practices to protect against the spread of COVID-19 and the risk of heat-related illness:
- Acclimatize new and returning workers to environmental and work conditions while wearing cloth face coverings.
- Prioritize the use of cloth face coverings when workers are in close contact with others (less than 6 feet), such as during group travel or shift meetings.
- Allow workers to remove cloth face coverings when they can safely maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance from others.
- Evaluate the feasibility of wearing cloth face coverings for each worker and consider alternatives (e.g., face shields) when appropriate.
- Increase the frequency of hydration and rest breaks in cooled environments.
- 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 a time, where feasible.
- Enhance ventilation throughout the worksite, including in break areas, where feasible.
- Allow workers to return to personal vehicles during breaks to use air conditioning, when possible. Multiple workers should generally not return to the same car.
- If fans are used, avoid directing the fan so it pushes air over multiple people at the same time, since fans may increase the distance respiratory droplets can travel.
- Encourage workers to use cloth face coverings that optimize fit and comfort and are made out of breathable, moisture-wicking materials.
- Encourage workers to change cloth face coverings when wet, as wet face coverings make it more difficult to breathe and are not as effective. Provide clean replacement cloth face coverings or disposable face masks, as needed, for workers to change into throughout the work shift.
- Ensure workers use handwashing facilities or hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol often, as heat or moisture build-up may cause workers to put on and take off cloth face coverings frequently.
- Allow workers to wear personal passive cooling items (e.g., icepack vests, cooling bandanas) and loose-fitting and breathable clothes, as long as these items do not present a safety hazard.
- Plan for heat emergencies and train workers on heat stress prevention and treatment.
- Increase the frequency of communication to workers and encourage workers to monitor themselves and others for signs of heat illness.
“Keeping workers comfortable and safe from heat stress and exposure to the novel coronavirus, as well as other pathogens such as Legionella, MRSA, and many others, is essential for keeping businesses and institutions open,” said Joe Frasca, Senior Vice President of Marketing at EMSL Analytical, Inc. “In addition to wearing face coverings, social distancing, washing hands and indoor environmental quality plays a key role. Proactive testing to identify air and surface pathogens to confirm the effectiveness of cleaning and disinfection procedures, is more important than ever. At EMSL, our network of laboratories across North America provides environmental, infection control and industrial hygiene laboratory testing services for a wide range of viral, bacterial and fungal pathogens. We also offer sampling supplies, test kits, air monitoring instruments and personal protective equipment (PPE).”
EMSL recently sponsored an educational video about OSHA's guidance for cloth face coverings in hot and humid indoor work environments, it can be seen at: https://youtu.be/o--I_pbG9S8.
To learn more about this or other infection control, building science, occupational, environmental, health and safety testing services and products, please visit www.EMSL.com, email info@EMSL.com or call (800) 220-3675.
About EMSL Analytical, Inc.
EMSL Analytical is one of the leading testing laboratories with 45 locations throughout the United States and Canada. EMSL is a nationally recognized and locally focused provider specializing in fast laboratory results for mold, bacteria, Legionella, USP 797, pathogens, asbestos, lead, soot, char & ash from fires, VOC's, odors, radon, formaldehyde, indoor air quality, microbiology, environmental, industrial hygiene, radiological, food, beverage & consumer products and material testing services for the identification of unknown substances. EMSL services both professionals and the general public. EMSL maintains an extensive list of accreditations from leading organizations as well as state and federal regulating bodies including, but not limited to A2LA, AIHA-LAP, LLC (AIHA-LAP, LLC EMLAP, AIHA-LAP, LLC IHLAP, AIHA-LAP, LLC ELLAP), NVLAP, CDC ELITE, CPSC, CA ELAP, NY ELAP, TX DOH, NJDEP and multiple other state accrediting agencies. Please visit our website at www.EMSL.com for a complete listing of accreditations. In addition, EMSL carries a wide range of Sampling Equipment and Investigative Products for environmental professionals.
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