Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses and institutions have been newly introduced to the value of personal protective equipment. Some workers may be unfamiliar with extensive PPE requirements. If PPE is new for you or your team, read on for a brief overview of best practices for protecting both employees and customers.
Which Businesses Should Require PPE?
With widespread community transmission of COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends mask-wearing in public settings, especially when maintaining a social distance of six feet is difficult or impossible. In practice, this guidance means that masks should be worn at any business where duties cannot be performed remotely. Although mask mandates are generally discretionary in many business settings, employers often find that universal mask requirements make employees feel more comfortable with returning to the office.
Certain industries, like hair and nail salons, gyms, and pharmacies, may have fewer options when it comes to mask-wearing, but requirements vary by state and locality, and are subject to change.
Mask-wearing should be implemented alongside other nonpharmaceutical interventions, such as:
- Improving indoor ventilation systems
- Moving activities outside if possible
- Mandating remote work for appropriate tasks
- Routine handwashing and sanitization of surfaces
Who Pays for Worker PPE?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to provide PPE if it’s necessary to perform essential duties safely. However, because cloth face masks do not protect the wearer, only the people with whom the wearer comes into contact, they’re not considered personal protective equipment. OSHA’s official guidance thus does not require employers to pay for employees’ masks.
Although providing masks isn’t required by federal law, the disparate responses to COVID-19 among various jurisdictions may mean that your business has to abide by additional rules. If local laws require you to provide cloth masks to employees, the absence of OSHA guidelines doesn’t supersede that obligation. Check with local officials for the most up-to-date information.
What Equipment Is Considered PPE?
PPE describes any equipment designed to protect the wearer from unavoidable hazards. Depending on what hazards are present, PPE could refer to flame-retardant clothing, steel-toed work boots, hairnets, respirators, or more. PPE requirements vary by industry, so familiarize yourself with the different types of PPE in this guide to personal protective equipment.
Remember, one essential quality of PPE is that it protects the wearer from the environment, not the other way around. While cloth masks aren’t PPE by this standard, surgical and N95 or similar masks—which may be required in care facilities or other businesses adjacent to the medical industry—are, so employers that mandate them must provide them for workers.
Can Accommodations Be Made for PPE Requirements?
While OSHA agrees that there is no truth to rumors that masks make healthy people sick by restricting airflow, employers need to be able to accommodate health issues with masks when they do exist. Workers with documented evidence of impaired lung function or claustrophobia may request exemptions, which employers can provide by permitting the use of face shields or similar alternative face coverings. Clear-paneled face masks, which make it possible to read lips through a mask, are also helpful for accommodating employees or customers with hearing impairments.
If you choose to require masks at your business Unigloves could help, you do not have to accommodate workers or customers who object to mask-wearing on social or political grounds. Provide employees with a script to handle customers who refuse to wear masks and ensure that you can be present to assist with enforcing mask requirements safely or providing reasonable accommodations.
The safety requirements demanded by COVID-19 can be challenging for businesses to enforce, so implement clear policies that follow local laws before problems happen.