The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published an update to COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions. Released November 18th, the resource now addresses OSHA’s opinions on cloth face coverings as “personal protective equipment” (PPE). The update comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced their own findings about cloth face coverings.

CDC and OSHA Determinations

Recently, the CDC determined that some cloth face coverings have the potential to provide personal protective benefits. However, the CDC noted that ” [further] research [will] expand the evidence base for the protective effect of cloth masks…” Factors such as design, construction, and fabric will have a substantial impact on the overall effectiveness of a face covering. As such, OSHA has announced that it does not consider cloth face coverings to be PPE at this time.

OSHA does however continue to strongly encourage workers to wear face coverings when they are in close contact with others. This would help in reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19 at the workplace. OSHA has also previously noted that employers may require workers to wear cloth face coverings for possible hazard abatement. Currently, however, the agency’s guidance remains unchanged. OSHA does not consider cloth face coverings PPE and they are not required under OSHA’s PPE standard (29 CFR 1910.132).

Employer Takeaways

The addition to the FAQs marks the latest release from OSHA addressing protective measures for workplaces during the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, OSHA published numerous guidance documents for workers and employers, available on OSHA’s COVID-19 resources webpage. Recent guidance included information on how to apply existing injury and illness recording and reporting requirements to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act), employers are responsible for providing safe workplaces for employees. By following OSHA guidance, employers can keep workers safe from infection and injury and show good-faith compliance with OSHA standards.