Face masks in the workplace: 8 facts we should all know
A question that most employers, and employees alike, ask is “Should my staff/I be wearing a mask to work?”
The CDC defines masks are a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and land on other people. They protect against coughing, sneezing, talking, or when people raise their voices. It is known as source control and is all based on what we know about respiratory spray and the spread of the virus that induces COVID-19, paired with developing evidence from clinical studies that determines masks decrease the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth.
In a recent study, it was found that masks also help protect the wearer. While the CDC first recommended wearing face masks to primarily block virus-laden particles that might be emitted by an infected person, the new report cites that masks can reduce the number of infectious droplets inhaled by the wearer.
COVID-19 spreads amidst groups of people within about 6 feet of one another. Masks are particularly important in settings where people are close to each other or where social distancing is challenging to maintain. Employees working by themselves may remove the mask, but as soon as they get within 6ft or less of another person, the mask must be worn to avoid exposure.
Here are 8 facts about face masks that we should all learn about:
- When should you wear a mask? Whenever you’re in crowded situations. Not just at work but even at the supermarket, in shops, and anywhere indoors or outdoors where you’re likely to contact people. On the job, wear a face covering over your nose and mouth. If you perform a task requiring a respirator, face shield, or equivalent PPE according to safety guidelines, wear the appropriate PPE. A cloth face covering or surgical mask is not a replacement for a respirator or face shield when one is required.
- How should it fit? Masks need to have a snug fit to be useful. It needs to be reasonably snug to block droplets coming out of your mouth and nose.
- Who shouldn’t wear a mask? There is an exception for younger children; there are also exemptions for some people with health conditions or disabilities and those who assist them. As an example, if you are hearing impaired and rely on lip-reading, you’re companions may not wear a mask. If you feel shortness of breath or that you’re overheating by wearing the mask, feel free to remove your face covering when no one is closer than 6ft and remember to do this as you believe is necessary.
- How many times can you wear a disposable mask? These masks should only be used once. In comparison, a cloth mask can have a better fit and can be reused as many times as needed.
- Which mask is best? The FFP3 respirator masks provide the maximum protection for the wearer. This mask is generally much more than what is needed, and they are in limited supply. For the public, experts advise cloth masks, preferably with any tightly woven fabric. Avoid masks with holes in them for ventilation.
- What steps should you take before touching your mask? Medical advice says to clean your hands before placing your mask on. When you take your mask off, use the straps rather than the fabric. Try to avoid touching the mask area.
- How should I store or carry a mask? The chance of picking up an infection from your mask is low; you’ll still want to keep it as clean as possible. It is recommended to store your mask in a plastic bag to ensure that it is secluded from everything else. Alternatively, wrap it in some fabric.
- How often should you wash your mask? Ideally, it would be best to wash your mask after every use in the laundry’s hot temperature setting. The World Health Organization advises boiling your face masks for one minute if it has been hand washed in room temperature water.
Workplace Safety & Prevention Services has a great guide for face masks which also includes a flow chart to help you decide which mask will work best for your organization.
Given how fast COVID-19 is spreading it's in everyone’s best interest to stay protected as best we can. So don’t forget your mask the next time you head out!