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Face Masks at the Workplace

The spread of COVID-19 has been emotionally and physically challenging for several people in society. It has changed the daily lives of people across the globe in unpredictable ways. Every section of society, including employees and employers, have an important role to play in the midst of this pandemic. Each one has to protect not only themselves, but also others around them, in order to control the spread of this deadly disease.

Slowly, workplaces, including small offices and bigger corporations, are opening up to welcome back employees after a long haul. 'Work from home' became the new normal for many professionals around the world since the time the pandemic became a serious danger. Employers have been taking several comprehensive measures under the guidance of CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to ensure that the workplace is completely safe for the employees to work in.

The Role Of Face Masks

Face Masks at the Workplace

Before we delve into other general precautions and safety measures for the prevention of spread of COVID-19 workplaces, let’s talk about something very basic, yet essential-using a face mask. This is something that needs to be strictly followed by employees, employers, staff members and guests visiting the workplace.

A face mask is one of the key measures for suppressing the virus's transmission and saving lives. The use of a mask minimizes the potential risk of exposure from any infected individual, whether or not they showcase symptoms. It is very simple- those who wear masks stay protected and help protect others if infected.

At workplaces, masks need to be part of the comprehensive COVID-19 prevention strategy, besides the following:

  • Social distancing
  • Sanitization
  • Avoiding crowding
  • Cleaning/washing hands regularly
  • Covering coughs and sneezes
  • Frequent cleaning of surfaces like tables and desks, and
  • Improving ventilation

Type of Masks You Should Wear

There are different categories of masks recommended for different groups of workers. Those employed in the health industry, such as hospitals and clinics, must wear medical masks and use other critical protective equipment. Additionally, medical masks should also be worn by those who feel unwell and may show mild symptoms like slight cough, fatigue, muscle ache, or sore throat. People over the age of 60 years are also recommended to wear medical masks.

As for other workplaces, depending on the organisation's safety measures, workers and staff may use fabric or other non-medical masks.

OSHA Guidelines for Face Masks

Although administrative and engineering measures are more effective for minimizing the risk of infection spread, PPE kits can also play an important role in exposure prevention. PPE includes face masks, goggles, face shields, and gloves, among other things. When there is an outbreak like COVID-19, there might be a change in the recommendations for protective equipment at different workplaces basis risk assessment, geographic location and other such factors.

Face masks need to be selected based on the hazard faced by the worker at the workplace. They need to be properly fitted as well as periodically refitted.

Preparing The Workplace for COVID-19

Here are some measures that employers/administrative staff need to take concerning wearing masks at a workplace:

  • Ensure that all employees and employers are consistently using well-fitted face masks.
  • Regular inspections, maintenance, and replacement of face masks is necessary at the workplace.
  • All individuals must remove and properly clean and store (or dispose off) their masks to prevent contamination.
  • The employer must provide quality face masks to their workers in order to ensure their safety at the workplace.

Safety Steps To Follow During Meetings And Events

One of the best ways to organise a meeting at the workplace is to provide a briefing or information, both in writing and orally on COVID-19. Organizers also need to inform attendees about the measures being taken to make the meeting/event safe for them.

  • Wearing face masks should be made mandatory during meetings, and workers should practice greeting each other from a distance, without touching.
  • There should sanitizers in the meeting room or at the event, strategically placed in different corners.
  • No participant should be allowed to enter the meeting room without a face mask.

Buying The Right Mask For Your Workplace

Here are a few varieties of masks that can be considered for wearing at the workplace:

Buying the Right Mask for Your Workplace 1. Disposable Protective Face Mask

This is one of the most commonly used face masks and comes with a nose clip and ear loops. It has three layers of protection and is hypoallergenic. The filtration efficiency of this mask is 95 percent and it is highly effective by virtue of being dustproof and anti-bacterial. These are single-use masks and need to be disposed off and not reused.

2. 3M N95 Particulate Respirator

This mask is known to provide reliable and comfortable respiratory protection. It is ideal for hot and dusty workplaces where employees need to wear a mask for a longer duration of time. The 3M N95 mask has the 3M Cool Flow Exhalation Valve, which is designed to minimize heat build-up. The mask offers up to 95 percent filtration and has a two-strap design along with the dual-point attachment.

3. Griffin Care Surgical Face Mask

As the name suggests, this is a medical-grade protection mask made with soft, elasticated ear loops. It is made using 3-ply fabric and is ISO certified. The mask is disposable.

CDC’s Guidelines For Wearing A Mask

  1. Make sure you wash your hands before you put the mask on.
  2. Put the mask over your mouth and nose. It should be secured under the chin. Covering both the mouse and nose is extremely important to safeguard others if you’re COVID-19 infected. This holds tur even if you’re asymptomatic.
  3. Try fitting the mask a little tightly along your face sides.
  4. Ensure that you’re able to breathe.
  5. Wearing a mask is especially important in public places, particularly when you’re not able to maintain a six feet distance from others.
  6. Avoid putting the mask up (on the forehead) or around neck.
  7. Touching of the mask should also be avoided. In the scenario that you do touch the mask, make sure you either sanitize your hands or wash them immediately.

CDC’s Guidelines For Mask Removal

  1. To take off the mask, you need to either stretch the loops or undo the strings, depending on the type of mask you’re wearing.
  2. Make sure you handle the mask by holding only the ties or the loops.
  3. To keep the mask properly, fold together its outside corners and put it for washing in the machine.
  4. Never touch your mouth, nose, and eyes when removing the mask. Wash your hands instantly after removal.

Cleaning Fabric Masks

  1. Fabric masks can be washed in detergent or soap with hot water. This should be done daily.
  2. Alternatively, you could also wash the mask in water that’s at room temperature and then boil it for a minute or so.
  3. The third option is to put the mask in 0.1 percent chlorine for about a minute. Then rinse the mask thoroughly with regular water (at room temperature).

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For more information about the coronavirus, please visit the NYS Department of Health ( www.health.ny.gov ) and the Centers for Disease Control ( www.cdc.gov ) websites.

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