On October 19, 2020, in an effort to dispel rumors about the value of an N95 respirator mask, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) confirmed that an N95 respirator is “effective” in protecting workers from the coronavirus in an updated Frequently Asked Question and Answer (FAQ). According to OSHA, The filter in an N95 mask is very effective in trapping and filtering out the smallest particles and airborne particles that are created when individuals talk, sneeze or cough.
In a test stimulating a 0.3 micros diameter particle, the N95 respirator filtered out at least 95% of particles this size. However, it is essential that the N95 masks are used correctly in order to be effective as expected. The DOL notes in its FAQ, “Respirators, when required, must be used as part of a comprehensive, written respiratory protection program that meets the requirements of OSHA's Respiratory Protection standard.” For more information and updates from the DOL about COVID-19, check out their website here.
California employers should be aware that Cal/OSHA has a comprehensive Guide to Respiratory Protection at Work, available here, and that Cal/OSHA does not currently require the use of N95 respirators for all employers and industries. See the Cal/OSHA and Statewide Industry Guidance on COVID-19 for more information on guidance for face coverings and limited exceptions here.
Counsel to Management:
It is critical that employers ensure they not only have written COVID-19 policies and procedures, postings, and frequent safety trainings, but that they also take affirmative steps to ensure those policies are observed by employees, including disciplinary action when neceesary. If you have questions about your company’s COVID-19 response policies and practices, including the use of face coverings, contact the experts at The Saqui Law Group.