While Fed-OSHA has not issued specific regulations regarding personal protective equipment for COVID-19, employers are still required under existing rules to conduct hazard assessments to determine Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements for their worksite.
Before employers consider PPE though, they should follow workplace safety best practices by following this hierarchy of safety controls:
Employers should first use engineering controls to protect employees from exposure. Since eliminating the threat of contagion is impossible with COVID-19, businesses have to try other methods to protect workers, including improving air filtration, increasing ventilation, and installing physical barriers such as plexiglass shields between workers.
After engineering controls have been put in place, the next step in workplace safety is administrative controls, which are focused on human behavior rather than physical enhancements. This can include:
After considering engineering and administrative controls as well as safe work practices, employers must determine if PPE is necessary for employees to work safely. If you are requiring PPE for your employees, it is up to you to provide it. You should not expect your workers to procure their own PPE, including:
OSHA's PPE advice
Federal OSHA's guidance for returning to work during the COVID-19 pandemic has the following PPE advice for employers:
Moreover, some state and/or local governments are requiring employees to wear face coverings at work and that employers provide them with cloth masks.
Cloth face coverings may be commercially produced or improvised (i.e., home-made) garments, scarves, bandannas, or items made from t-shirts or other fabrics.
During training, employees should be told that masks are not a substitute for social distancing or other administrative controls.
Choosing the right PPE
Under OSHA guidance there are three risk categories for workers concerning the use of PPE:
If you are still uncertain, OSHA has published COVID-19 guidance that includes recommendations for engineering and administrative controls as well as PPE for a number of industries.
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