On January 29, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) issued new employer guidance on mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. This guidance is intended to help employers and workers outside the healthcare setting to identify risks of being exposed to and of contracting COVID-19 and to determine any appropriate control measures to implement. While this guidance is largely duplicative of prior OSHA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) guidance and recommendations, it contains a few new and updated recommendations that employers should note:
OSHA recognizes that face coverings, either cloth face coverings or surgical masks, are simple barriers that help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and are beneficial for the wearer as well as others. OSHA recommends that employers should provide all workers with face coverings, unless their work task requires a respirator. These face coverings should be provided at no cost and should be made of at least two layers of tightly woven breathable fabric, and should not have exhalation valves or vents. Employers should also require any other individuals at the workplace (i.e., visitors, customers, non-employees) to wear a face covering unless they are under the age of 2 or are actively consuming food or beverages on site. Wearing a face covering does not eliminate the need for physical distancing of at least six feet apart.
Employers must discuss the possibility of “reasonable accommodations” for any workers who are unable to wear or have difficulty wearing certain types of face coverings due to a disability. In workplaces with employees who are deaf or have hearing deficits, employers should consider acquiring masks with clear coverings over the mouth.