June 11, 2020

OSHA Publishes FAQs About Cloth Face Coverings in the Workplace

A new webpage published by OSHA answers frequently asked questions about cloth face coverings in the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency first discusses the differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks, and respirators. OSHA clarifies that cloth face coverings are intended to contain the wearer's potentially infectious respiratory droplets and to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. According to the agency, cloth face coverings are not considered personal protective equipment, and they “will not protect the wearer against airborne transmissible infectious agents due to loose fit and lack of seal or inadequate filtration.” Because cloth face coverings are not considered PPE, OSHA’s standards do not require employers to provide them.

Like cloth face coverings, surgical masks will also not protect wearers against airborne transmissible infectious agents, but OSHA states that they can be “used to protect workers against splashes and sprays (i.e., droplets) containing potentially infectious materials.” In this case, the agency considers surgical masks as PPE, and OSHA’s standards require employers to provide necessary PPE to workers at no cost. However, if surgical masks are being used only as source control, OSHA states that its PPE standards do not require employers to provide them to workers.

Respirators such as filtering facepieces are used to prevent workers from inhaling airborne transmissible or aerosolized infectious agents and other small particles.

Other topics addressed in OSHA’s FAQ include whether workers should wear a cloth face covering at work, whether employers need to continue to ensure social distancing measures are in place if workers wear cloth face coverings, and how to keep reusable cloth face coverings clean. The agency also discusses whether surgical masks or cloth face coverings are acceptable respiratory protection in the construction industry when respirators would be needed but are not available because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

View the FAQ page on OSHA’s website.