OSHA Guidance Addresses Face Coverings in Hot, Humid Conditions
OSHA has published two new COVID-19 guidance documents, for indoor (PDF) and outdoor (PDF) workers respectively, addressing actions employers should take to protect employees against both COVID-19 and heat-related illnesses. OSHA reiterates that employers should encourage workers to wear cloth face coverings in the workplace, but acknowledges that workers in hot, humid indoor and outdoor environments, in industries ranging from construction and agriculture to kitchens, warehouses, and foundries, may find cloth face coverings uncomfortable. The agency suggests employers encourage those workers to use face coverings made from breathable, moisture-wicking materials, and stresses that new and returning workers should be acclimatized to environmental conditions while wearing cloth face coverings. The new guidance urges employers to increase the frequency of hydration and rest breaks and to allow workers to wear “personal passive cooling items” such as icepack vests or cooling bandanas as long as the items do not present a safety hazard. Workers should also change any wet face coverings, as they are less effective and can add to breathing difficulties. Employers may consider allowing workers to remove cloth face coverings “when they can safely maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance from others.” Both new documents remind employers that cloth face coverings should not be used as a substitute for engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, or necessary personal protective equipment. OSHA’s COVID-19 webpage collects this and other interim guidance and resources for protecting workers during the pandemic.