It’s an unfortunate reality that the COVID-19 pandemic may be around for a lot longer than we think. As a result, all able American citizens are being asked to wear a face mask outside of their home in public settings where social distancing is difficult or unfeasible. So, what does this mean for workplaces and offices where employees and employers need to gather to complete their work?
Read on to learn more about the importance of face masks, best face mask practices for workplaces, which face masks are best, and download our face mask policy template.
This article is part of a series from Blue Summit Supplies dedicated to getting you the information and resources your office needs surrounding COVID-19. It is critical that offices across our nation take swift action to protect their workers and prevent the spread of illness. The decisions we make have a direct impact on the health of those around us. Though it will be a challenge, changing our behaviors could save the lives of our friends, neighbors, and coworkers. For more, read our guide to Social Distancing at Work: What it Means and Proper Practices.
There has been a good deal of controversy and misinformation surrounding wearing masks to help guard against the spread of COVID-19. Despite this, it is important to follow the recommendations of the scientists, doctors, epidemiologists, and other experts who are and have been fighting this disease for months.
Evidence from clinical and laboratory settings shows that cloth face coverings provide a simple barrier that helps prevent respiratory droplets from escaping into the air and landing on other people or surfaces when someone coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. Respiratory droplets play a key role in spreading COVID-19, which is spread mainly among people who are in close contact, or within about 6 feet of each other.
It’s important to keep in mind that someone may not know they have COVID-19 because they don’t have any of the symptoms, but these people can still spread COVID-19 to others, some of whom may have a far more severe—or fatal—reaction to it.
Based on the recommendations and advice from experts, wearing a face mask at work is an important step in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and the best way we have—outside of moving to a cave in the desert and abandoning our loved ones for a life of quiet isolation—of protecting our friends, family, and coworkers. Wearing a mask at work may be an inconvenient or even frustrating requirement, but unfortunately, there is no end in sight to this pandemic, and it’s up to all of us to help see each other through this unprecedented global event.
It’s important to create a face mask policy for employees so that everyone can get on the same page. What exactly is expected? Will employees be asked to provide their own masks? What will occur if an employee refuses to wear a mask? Where, specifically, is the wearing of a mask required in the workplace? What’s to be done about the elevator?
Your employees are going to have a lot of questions. A face mask policy at work gives your employees a resource they can always return to for guidance. If they have a question, they can check the policy. If an employee has a question that’s not answered in your face mask policy, take the time to edit and adapt the policy to include the answer from then on. Putting a policy in place will keep both businesses and employees protected in the face of legal questions or problems that could arise.
An office face mask policy should be written clearly and concisely, be implemented by the human resources department or supervising staff, and looked over by a legal team if necessary.
An obvious point of confusion is wearing a mask at lunchtime, as you can’t eat with a mask on. If you have several employees and a small lunchroom, it’s going to be difficult to keep everyone 6 feet apart. Instead, try rotating your lunch breaks, and only allow so many employees to be in the lunchroom at once. You can also ask any employees with a personal office to remain in their offices while they are eating.
Use signage to indicate which areas of your office require a mask, and to remind employees and visitors of your mask policies. Download our free face mask office signs to post around your workplace.
We’ve pulled together a list of suggestions for what you should include in your office mask policy.
Let your employees know why you are implementing this policy. Get everyone on the same page by providing up to date facts and your state requirements if applicable.
Provide specific details on who needs to wear a mask, where in your office masks are required, and when your policy will go into effect. Are there any exceptions to these rules and when might they apply?
Explain what type of masks are acceptable for office wear. How much of your face does the mask need to cover? What type of fabric or thickness of fabric is acceptable? Outline proper mask wearing instructions including dos and don’t, best practices, and how to make sure your mask is properly situated.
Explain whether or not your company will supply masks or if employees need to provide their own. Will you have masks available in case someone forgets theirs? Will you have masks available to office guests if need be?
What are the consequences of not wearing a mask? What will happen if an employee refuses? How should an employee address the issue of a colleague not properly wearing a mask? Be clear about what you expect and what will happen if your new rules are not abided by.
For legal purposes, you may want to have each of your employees sign a copy of your mask policy to ensure everyone has read and understands your new requirements.
A little thanks goes a long way. Show compassion towards your team, and thank them in advance for implementing your new mask policy. It may be difficult and definitely inconvenient, but together you are looking out for one another and protecting lives inside and outside of the office.
Yes, private companies have the right to turn away guests and visitors if they refuse to wear a mask. If a business makes face masks a requirement, it does not violate the rights of an individual who refuses to wear one. That individual has the right to visit a workplace or place of business with a different policy. This new requirement has been likened to a “no shirt, no shoes, no service” policy. Refusing to wear a mask actually infringes on the rights of the private business.
Yes, an employer can make you wear a mask. If your employer requires you to wear a mask and your refusal is not based on a specific medical or religious reason, you can be terminated. It should also be noted that “free speech” is not a medical or religious reason not to wear a mask.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), cloth face masks are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE) since they are meant to protect others and not specifically the wearer. Therefore, businesses in the US are not federally required to provide face masks, nor are they required to train employees on how to use them properly. That said, rules and requirements vary from state to state. Check your state and district requirements, as well as recommendations by the CDC, before instituting a face mask policy.
To help your new face mask policy along, you may want to consider providing masks for your team. Keep in mind that everyone’s face is different, and they may feel more comfortable choosing their own. Give employees the option, and always have new, spare masks on hand in your workplace in case someone forgets a mask or you have an office visitor who needs one.
A disposable mask, also known as a surgical or medical mask, covers the wearer’s nose and mouth and is used to protect the individual as well as those around them from germs contained in droplets, splashes, or sprays of saliva or snot. The US Food and Drug Administration has not approved any specific disposable mask for protection against COVID-19.
Washable cloth masks are recommended to the public over disposable surgical masks, as healthcare workers depend on these to fulfill the duties of their job, and they are in short supply at the moment. There are many stores and online retailers selling cloth face masks, and the CDC has provided instructions on how to make a cloth mask yourself.
According to the CDC, “A cloth face covering may not protect the wearer, but it may keep the wearer from spreading the virus to others.” Therefore, cloth face masks work best when the majority of people wear them.
Choose a mask that’s as comfortable as possible. This may involve a bit of trial and error, as everyone’s face is different. Make sure the mask doesn’t irritate your skin or fall down below your nose, as cloth masks have to be worn properly to have any effect.
An N95 Mask is a kind of respirator. It filters out large and small particles, and is designed to block 95% of small particles (hence the name.) Some N95 masks, as well as some cloth masks, have one-way valves on the mask that make them easier to breathe through. Any masks with valves should be avoided, as they release the unfiltered breath of the wearer. Valve masks do not prevent the wearer from spreading COVID-19, and are not recommended. Some places have gone so far as to ban the use of masks with valves.
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