September 24, 2020

OSHA Guidance Addresses Face Coverings in Hot, Humid Conditions

New COVID-19 guidance published by OSHA discusses the use of cloth face coverings while working in hot and humid conditions or while performing strenuous activities. Two new documents—one for outdoor workers (PDF) and one for indoor workers (PDF)—address actions employers should take to protect employees against the spread of COVID-19 and heat-related illness. OSHA reiterates its recommendation that employers encourage workers to wear cloth face coverings to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Workers who work outdoors in industries such as agriculture, construction, and delivery services and those who work indoors in hot and humid environments like kitchens, warehouses, and foundries may find cloth face coverings uncomfortable. The agency suggests encouraging workers to use face coverings made from breathable, moisture-wicking materials. OSHA also stresses the need for employers to ensure that new and returning workers are 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 face coverings when wet because wet face coverings are less effective and can add to breathing difficulties. OSHA states that employers should 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.

Related: New fact sheets recently published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provide information for employers and employees on heat stress prevention during the COVID-19 pandemic.