As scientists seek more effective medical treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to issue guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus — including wearing face masks in public settings such as workplaces. As an employer or work supervisor, here’s what you should know about employee face masks and how providing them may help protect your staff, your customers and you, too.
What’s the risk of NOT wearing a face mask?
Within nearly every place of business, social distancing rules can prove difficult to maintain. Colleagues often find themselves close to one another, especially in tight spaces like elevators, hallways and stairways. Daily conversation, meetings and day-to-day customer interactions may also bring the most well-intentioned people into closer proximity than the 6 feet that’s recommended.
The health risks occur when an infected person (who may not show symptoms) sneezes, coughs or even just talks or laughs, and droplets containing the virus go into the air from their mouth or nose. If another person is standing or sitting less than 6 feet away from the infected person, they can breathe those droplets into their lungs.
Additionally, studies have shown that the virus can live in the air for up to 3 hours. That means if you breathe air with the virus still in it, that air can get into your lungs. All of these factors can lead to the spread of the virus — threatening the health and safety of everyone in your workplace. That’s why face masks are a good preventative measure to take.
What kind of face masks should you provide?
Currently, the CDC recommends that medical-grade surgical masks or N95 respirators be reserved only for first responders and others on the frontlines of medical care. For workers in other places, especially those establishments open to the public, the CDC has the following recommendations for face coverings. Ideally, they should:
- fit comfortably but snugly against the side of the face
- have ties or ear loops to keep the face mask secure
- include multiple layers of fabric within the face mask
- allow the wearer to breathe without restriction
- be machine washable (and dried) without damaging the face mask or changing the shape of the mask
At Lands’ End, designers have created non-medical, easy care face masks that feature elastic ear loops and an interior metal piece to ensure a good fit around the nose. The comfortable cotton fabric is double layered with an opening to accommodate a filter, if the wearer wishes to insert one for even more protection. The face masks come in convenient packs of three and are easily washable and dryable, too, for up to 20 washes. They may even be monogrammed with a company’s name and match your custom company uniform, to even further show your support of safety practices.
Does an employer have to provide face masks?
Whether you must provide face masks to your employees varies from locale to locale. There are executive orders in states such as New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Michigan that businesses such as restaurants and food service providers must offer their employees face coverings at the employer’s expense. But not all areas have addressed this issue and it’s fair to say that there’s a patchwork of face mask regulations across America.
That’s why it’s especially important that business owners and supervisors investigate their state and local ordinances to find out if you’re required to provide face masks to employees to help limit the spread of COVID-19. You should also be aware of any exceptions to the requirements, including exemptions for employees with medical issues that may prevent them from wearing a face mask. Bottom line: Educating yourself and your employees about the spread of the virus and understanding state and local orders about safety measures such as face masks will help you do your part to help control this global pandemic, while protecting yourself, your staff, your customers and your business.