OSHA Answers Questions About Cloth Face Coverings

Author: Michael Cardman, XpertHR Legal Editor

June 16, 2020

As more workers return to the workplace, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued new FAQs advising employers about cloth face coverings in the workplace.

OSHA stressed that the FAQs do not represent a standard or a regulation, and they create no new legal obligations. They are meant to advise employers about how to provide a safe workplace.

Among other things, OSHA clarified that cloth face coverings are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE).

As a result, employers are not required to provide them under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Even though OSHA does not require employers to provide face coverings, states or municipalities may do so. In addition, the agency noted that cloth face coverings should not be used when workers need PPE for protection against exposure to occupational hazards.

The FAQs also address the key differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks and respirators.

OSHA offered the following recommendations:

  • Encourage workers to wear face coverings at work to help prevent employees who have coronavirus 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.)
  • Continue to implement social distancing even if workers are wearing cloth face coverings. Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing measures, OSHA stressed.
  • Follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control about washing reusable cloth face coverings.