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When Face Masks are Required or Advisable While at Work

Wearing a Face Mask Can Help Workers Stay Healthy

Weeklysafety
Blog
Coronavirus

Coronavirus

Learn more about the precautions to consider when employees may be required or advised to wear face masks while at work, or who voluntarily choose to wear a face mask to prevent or slow the transmission of airborne illnesses, like coronavirus.

Working Wearing Hardhat, Safety Vest and Face Mask

To reduce the risk of transmission of infectious disease, like the coronavirus, it may be advisable for workers to wear face masks. Wearing a mask or cloth face covering may be especially important when social distancing measures are still recommended by health officials but are difficult to maintain while at work. It is important to recognize that the optimal way to prevent airborne transmission is to use a combination of safety practices and not rely on face masks alone.

A significant portion of people with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before they start showing symptoms. This means the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity – for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing – even if those people are not showing symptoms.

Woman Wearing Cloth Face Covering

The CDC advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. The cloth face cover is meant to protect other people in case you are infected, but may be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. The cloth face cover is not a substitute for social distancing. Maintaining 6-feet social distancing remains important to slowing the spread of the virus. A cloth mask may also help you avoid touching your face. Cloth face coverings should be routinely washed depending on the frequency of use. A washing machine should be enough to properly wash a cloth face covering.

Cloth face coverings should:

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • include multiple layers of fabric
  • allow for breathing without restriction
  • be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape
Industrial Worker Wearing Hardhat, Safety Vest and Face Mask

A surgical mask is a loose-fitting, disposable device that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants in the immediate environment. They may come with or without a face shield. If worn properly, a surgical mask is meant to help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter that may contain germs (viruses and bacteria), keeping it from reaching your mouth and nose.

Surgical masks may help reduce exposure of your saliva and respiratory secretions to others. Surgical masks do not provide complete protection from germs and other contaminants because of the loose fit between the surface of the face mask and your face.

N95 Respirator

An N95 respirator is a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles. The 'N95' designation means that when subjected to careful testing, the respirator blocks at least 95 percent of very small (0.3 micron) test particles. If properly fitted, the filtration capabilities of N95 respirators exceed those of cloth and surgical face masks.

A proper seal between the user’s face and the respirator forces inhaled air to be pulled through the respirator’s filter material and not through gaps between the face and respirator. Even a properly fitted N95 respirator does not completely eliminate the risk of illness.

Man Removing Surgical Face Mask by Loops

Take care when removing any face mask. Do not remove a mask by its mouth area. Instead, grab it by the straps. Immediately wash your hands after touching, handling or removing your mask. Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth when removing a face mask.

  • Do not share face masks.
  • Ensure that any face mask you wear does not interfere with your ability to complete work assignments safely.
  • To offer protection, cloth face coverings, surgical masks and respirators need to be worn correctly and consistently.
Warehouse Worker Wearing Hardhat and Face Mask

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