CHANGING EVIDENCE FOR USE OF MASKS DURING CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

By Carola Mittag

Posted Aug 4th, 2020 in Tips & News

Initially, masks were seen as necessary for the protection of healthcare workers but overkill for the general public. Now scientific evidence confirms that masks and face coverings help prevent the spread of coronavirus, which is even more important as we return to work.

Masks used for “Source Control”
Masking for source control is considered a preventive hygiene measure to protect others from potential infectious droplets of the wearer, not the masked person. If personal protective equipment is required to perform work, that requirement takes priority over masking for source control.

Assessing COVID-19 Risk
The first step is for employers to establish the risk level for any employee. A risk assessment can help the employer determine whether source control could be helpful for workers.
  • High Risk employees have a high chance of being exposed to COVID-19. This includes but is not limited to healthcare, nursing homes and laboratory settings. Employers in this category should follow industry-specific guidelines on Personal Protective Equipment.
  • Medium Risk employees are within 6 feet of individuals who could have COVID-19. Where there is sustained community transmission, this essentially means employees who deal with the general public. Masks are highly recommended and now mandatory in many jurisdictions.
  • Low Risk employees are not regularly required to be within 6 feet of customers or co-workers. Cloth face-coverings are recommended.
Remember, masks are not a replacement for social distancing.

Can employers require masks?
Businesses can require that employees wear masks. However, employers must be aware that mandating masks may make them subject to OHSA requirements related to Personal Protective Equipment, which means they must:
  • Carry out a hazard assessment
  • Consider alternatives (like plexiglass and other barriers)
  • Provide the masks
  • Train employees how to wear masks
  • Clean and maintain masks
  • Cover all associated costs
  • There are further, more stringent rules covering the use of ‘respirator’ masks.
What if employees don’t want to wear masks?
Certain employees may have health conditions which don’t allow them to wear a mask. If so, they should be excused from high-risk and medium-risk roles. However, in all other cases employees should not be permitted to work without the required mask or face-covering. This is not just about their safety, it’s about the safety of their coworkers and their communities.

Common varieties of mask
Different industries and job roles will require different standards of masks. Here are the most common types:

1.  ‘Respirators’ (including N95s)
A respirator is a high-level, tight-fitted mask suitable to the riskiest environments. They often feature a vent that allows for external air flow in which case they should not be worn around those who are not wearing a mask.

2.  Medical/Surgical Masks
These are usually blue or green, made of several layers of thin fabric and designed to be used only once. Their looser fit makes them less effective than N95s; thereby, making them unsuitable for extensive use around those known to have the virus.

3.  Cloth face-covering for source control
These can be purchased or made at home from cotton material. According to CDC guidance, an effective cloth face covering will:
o    fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
o    be secured with ties or ear loops
o    include multiple layers of fabric
o    allow for breathing without restriction
o    be able to be laundered and machine-dried without damage or change to shape

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