OSHA issues new guidance on face masks for working in the heat

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Updated Sep 29, 2020
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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued new guidelines for wearing cloth face coverings while working outside in hot and humid conditions or while performing strenuous outdoor activities.

The guidance includes allowing outdoors workers in construction, landscaping and other similar fields to take off their face cover when they can stay at least 6 feet away from others.

OSHA also says to consider the possibility of face shields as an alternative to masks when masks aren’t feasible. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control does not recommend face shields as an alternative to masks or other cloth face coverings. However, when masks aren’t feasible, such as for workers who are deaf or hearing impaired, it says certain face shields may provide better protection than others. Those shields are ones that wrap around the sides of the face and extend below the chin, and hooded face shields.

OSHA also says, “Cloth face coverings should not be used as a substitute for engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices or necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).”

OSHA guidance on masks

The new OSHA guidance sets out ways to protect workers from the virus while also protecting them from heat-related illnesses. The suggested practices are as follows:

  • Acclimatize new and returning workers to environmental and work conditions while wearing cloth face coverings.
  • Prioritize the use of cloth face coverings when workers are in close contact with others (less than 6 feet), such as during group travel or shift meetings.
  • Allow workers to remove cloth face coverings when they can safely maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance from others.
  • Evaluate the feasibility of wearing cloth face coverings for each worker and consider alternatives (e.g., face shields) when appropriate.
  • Encourage workers to use cloth face coverings that optimize fit and comfort; are made out of breathable, moisture-wicking materials; and use light colors when working in direct sunlight.
  • Encourage workers to change cloth face coverings when wet, as wet face coverings make it more difficult to breathe and are not as effective. Provide clean replacement cloth face coverings or disposable face masks, as needed, for workers to change into throughout the work shift.
  • Increase the frequency of hydration and rest breaks in shaded, non-enclosed or air conditioned areas.
  • Incorporate at least 6 feet of physical distancing into break areas by staggering breaks, spacing workers and limiting the number of workers on break at a time, where feasible.
  • Allow workers to return to personal vehicles during breaks to use air conditioning, when possible. Multiple workers should generally not return to the same car.
  • If fans are used, avoid directing the fan so it pushes air over multiple people at the same time, since fans may increase the distance respiratory droplets can travel.
  • Ensure workers use handwashing facilities or hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol often, as heat or moisture build-up may cause workers to put on and take off cloth face coverings frequently.
  • Avoid scheduling strenuous tasks during the hottest parts of the day and alter work shifts to cooler parts of the day, when possible.
  • Allow workers to wear personal passive cooling items (e.g., icepack vests, cooling bandanas) and loose-fitting and breathable clothes, as long as these items do not present a safety hazard.
  • Plan for heat emergencies and train workers on heat-stress prevention and treatment.
  • Increase the frequency of communication to workers and encourage workers to monitor themselves and others for signs of heat illness.

Other resources

OSHA provides the following resources: