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Washington — New guidance from OSHA answers six frequently asked questions regarding the use of masks in the workplace during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the agency’s answers is an explanation of the key differences between cloth facial coverings, surgical masks and respirators. Other topics include whether employers are required to provide masks, the continued need to follow physical distancing guidelines when wearing masks and how workers can keep cloth masks clean.

“As our economy reopens for business, millions of Americans will be wearing masks in their workplace for the first time,” acting OSHA administrator Loren Sweatt said in a June 10 press release. “OSHA is ready to help workers and employers understand how to properly use masks so they can stay safe and healthy in the workplace.”

The agency reminds employers not to use surgical masks or cloth facial coverings for work that requires a respirator.


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Two weeks ago, OSHA revised its policy, saying it will expand inspections beyond those in healthcare facilities, which the agency said last month it was prioritizing to conserve resources.

OSHA’s announcement stated that the agency would:

● Increase in-person inspections at all types of workplaces. This is in response to the fact that many non-essential businesses have begun to reopen in areas of lower community spread.
● Revise its previous enforcement policy for recording cases of coronavirus. Under OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements, coronavirus is a recordable illness, and employers are responsible for recording cases of the coronavirus, if the case:

1. is confirmed as a coronavirus illness;
2. is work-related as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5; and
3. involves one or more of the general recording criteria in 29 CFR 1904.7

Following the listed requirements for recordkeeping, OSHA added, “given the nature of the disease and community spread, however, in many instances it remains difficult to determine whether a coronavirus illness is work-related, especially when an employee has experienced potential exposure both in and out of the workplace.”

OSHA can fine employers for violating workplace safety rules, but only after it conducts inspections and investigations.

In a notice on April 10, OSHA said it would consider “good faith” efforts of employers to protect employees before issuing citations. This meant it would “exercise enforcement discretion” because of the difficulty of proving how or where a worker contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

While the revisions expand OSHA’s power in holding employer accountable for coronavirus safety, many say the revisions stop short of one of the key demands of worker unions: that OSHA adopt an emergency temporary standard for workplace safety regarding COVID-19.

In fact, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) (the largest federation of labor unions) has been urging the agency to adopt an infectious disease standard since 2009, according to one article.

A COVID-19 standard would impose requirements on businesses and speed up the enforcement process for companies that don’t comply, said David Muraskin of advocacy group Public Justice.

He says that the general clause for employers to protect their employees in a safe workplace is not enough, since its requirements are softened by language like “where possible” and “where feasible.”

“That’s why people want actual standards,” said Muraskin. “It has a real effect. These inspections are likely a way for the administration to claim it is doing something without actually doing anything.”

To date, OSHA has not issued any citations for COVID-19 related inspections. “But out of more than 3,800 Covid-19 related complaints that OSHA has received—many concerning a lack of personal protective equipment such as face masks, gloves and gowns—the agency had opened only 281 coronavirus-related inspections as of May 13,” according to a Labor Department spokesperson.


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Before COVID-19, the acronym PPE was not known by most people. Industrial workers, first responders, and healthcare workers are familiar with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) because they use it every day. However, on an ordinary day, using the PPE acronym in a conversation, usually required some sort of explanation:

“Well, you know, PPE are safety products that protect people when they’re working… like gloves, goggles, hard hats, and face masks.”

Because of COVID-19, you don’t have to explain PPE anymore. This novel coronavirus has catapulted the acronym into the mainstream vernacular, shop talk and watercooler banter.

During this pandemic, healthcare workers and others have been scrambling for two sought-after products in the PPE pandemic world: the N95 respirator and surgical face masks. According to a survey conducted by Premier, Inc.,1 a healthcare improvement company, “Hospitals ranked the supply of N95 respirators as their top concern. . . . In addition, the availability of PPE and burn rates for PPE products were the two most commonly cited ‘surprises’ of the pandemic.”

The mayhem and fear surrounding the shortage of these items created misinformation and myths. Below we will explore five protection myths about N95 respirators, surgical face masks, and face coverings.

Myth #1: The N95 respirator and a surgical face mask are basically the same thing, offering very similar protection.

They are not the same thing and provide different types of protection. Although they serve different purposes, on March 10, the CDC updated its recommendations and advised that face masks for clinical providers are an acceptable alternative2 when there is a shortage of N95 respirators. But it is important to understand the differences between the two.

The N95 Filtering Facepiece Respirator (FFR)

Although the N95 respirator is frequently called a mask, it is a Filtering Facepiece Respirator (FFR) designed to reduce inhalation exposure to particulate contaminants, which are microscopic particles of solid or liquid matter suspended in the air.

In the industrial work force, N95 respirators are commonly used to decrease exposure to wood dust, animal dander, mold, and pollen. During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare facilities have been using N95 respirators — when they can get their hands on them — in their infection control programs.

The N95 respirator is tight-fitting and creates a seal on the face, whereas a face mask has gaps on the sides where particles or infectious agents can enter. The fit of a N95 respirator is so important that use of one requires annual fit-testing to ensure the wearer receives the intended 95 percent filtering of particles with mass median diameter of 0.3 micrometers. However, OSHA has temporarily suspended3 the fit-test rule during COVID-19.

The N95 includes a specialized filter that captures at least 95 percent of the airborne particles that pass through it, but it is not resistant to oil. The N95 is evaluated, tested, and approved by NIOSH as per the requirements in 42 CFR Part 84.

The surgical N95 respirator (N95s)

There is a subset of the N95 respirator worn by healthcare workers to protect the patient and themselves from the transfer of body fluids, microorganisms, and particulate airborne matter. This subset is called the surgical N95 respirator (N95s). According to the CDC, a surgical N95 respirator “is a NIOSH-approved N95 respirator that has also been cleared by the FDA as a surgical mask.” The surgical N95 respirator is like a hybrid. It is a filtering facepiece respirator with the added benefit of splash-resistant face mask material on the outside.

According to OSHA, “respirators offer the best protection for workers who must work closely (either in contact with or within 6 feet) with people who have influenza‑like symptoms.” Therefore, they should be reserved for workers who work in occupations with high exposure to pandemic influenza or COVID-19.

Respirators are considered single-use PPE and should be discarded, placed in a plastic bag, and disposed of properly when:

● They become damaged or lose their shape
● They no longer form an effective seal to the face
● They become wet or visibly dirty
● Breathing becomes more difficult because the filter is clogged with particles
● They become contaminated with blood, nasal secretions, or patient body fluids

Approved reuse of N95 Respirators via Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide sterilizers

Normally, the N95 respirator is considered a disposable, single use PPE item. However, on April 10th, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the second emergency use authorization (EUA) to decontaminate compatible N95 or N95-equivalent respirators for reuse by health care workers in hospital settings. This EUA will support decontamination of approximately 750,000 N95 respirators per day in the U.S.

“This EUA is another game changer,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. “It will allow hospitals to decontaminate compatible N95 respirators using vaporized hydrogen peroxide sterilizers that are readily available in approximately 2,000 U.S. hospitals. It’s another important step forward in helping to reduce shortages in critical N95 respirators, by allowing for these important devices, when decontaminated, to be reused by health care personnel on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The surgical, medical, or procedure mask (face masks)

Regulated under 21 CFR 878.4040, a surgical mask is often referred to as a “face mask.” It is primarily intended to protect against saliva and respiratory secretions.

Unlike the N95, a surgical mask does not form an adequate seal to the wearer’s face, so healthcare workers cannot rely upon it to protect against airborne infectious agents. Nor does it require an annual fit-test and seal-check that is usually typical of the N95 respirator.

A surgical mask is fluid resistant and provides a physical barrier to protect the user from large droplets or splashes of blood or body fluids. It does not block or filter small particle aerosols from coughs or sneezes. Not regulated for particulate filtration, it may be labeled as a surgical, isolation, dental, or medical procedure mask. It is cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Surgical masks should be discarded after one patient encounter according to medical facility rules and regulations.

The CDC has a helpful infographic4 that explains the differences between the N95 respirator and the surgical face mask. It makes a great handout for training.

Myth #2: N95 respirators with exhalation valves can be used when trying to maintain a sterile environment in an operating or procedure room.

N95 respirators can be purchased with or without exhalation valves. Exhalation valves are a critical component of industrial respirators. They are designed to permit minimal inward leakage of air contaminants during inhalation and provide low resistance during exhalation.

Despite the comfort benefits of an exhalation valve for industrial workers, N95 respirators with exhalation valves should not be used when trying to maintain a sterile environment in an operating room. Although the exhalation valve makes breathing easier, any bacteria or virus expelled from the user may travel through the exhalation valve and enter the operating room, compromising the sterile environment.

Myth #3: If a health care worker is properly wearing a surgical face mask, he or she is adequately protected from inhaling airborne infectious agents, including those from a patient who is exhaling, coughing, or sneezing.

This is not true of a surgical face mask. However, it is true of N95 respirators and surgical N95 respirators. The CDC says, “If properly fitted, the filtration capabilities of N95 respirators exceed those of face masks.”

Surgical face masks do not provide protection from small particles, like airborne infectious agents. However, they trap large particles of body fluids that may contain viruses or bacteria keeping contaminated larger droplets from reaching the nose and mouth. Remember, a surgical mask does not form an adequate seal to the wearer’s face, so it cannot be relied upon for complete protection.

Myth #4: It’s OK to touch the inside and outside of your mask or respirator when putting it on or taking it off.

Just like you should avoid touching your face to help prevent contamination, you should not touch the inside or outside of a face mask or N95 respirator. With clean, sanitized hands, you should always pick up or take off the mask by its straps, ear loops, or ties. Always wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after mask/ respirator removal and be conscious that the outside of the mask is a contamination zone.

For purchased masks or respirators, always follow product instructions on use, disposal, and storage (when applicable) and follow the procedures for mask donning and removal.

Myth #5: Wearing a face covering or cloth mask in public will protect the wearer from getting infected by others.

Unfortunately, this is not true. According to the CDC, textile (cloth) masks “are not PPE, and it is uncertain whether cloth face coverings protect the wearer.”

Made-at-home face coverings or cloth masks are not a preventative measure you can take to avoid getting a highly contagious virus like COVID-19. However, wearing a cloth mask in public, like at the grocery store, will help prevent the spread of the disease to others. COVID-19 doesn’t always present symptoms, so wearing masks in public is usually a healthy thing to do, but it shouldn’t give people a false sense of protection.

Lessons learned

Hopefully, America and the world will be back at work soon, rebuilding our economy and the livelihoods so profoundly affected by this tiny but destructive virus. Although we did not know much about this novel coronavirus in the beginning, we are much smarter now. May the lessons we learned during COVID-19 carry us forward to create a safer and healthier world. By all means, let’s remember the importance of PPE and take steps to ensure our supply chains and distribution centers are well positioned to protect those who protect us.


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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance aimed at state governments and employers about the reopening of workplaces and other sites to the public earlier ordered closed in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The 62-page document details how the agency is supporting the step-by-step reopening of the nation’s economy and offers practical advice for employers and employees, much of which is in line with earlier recommendations issued over the past three months by the CDC, other federal agencies, state and local governments, and industry associations.

The publication also offers interim guidance aimed at childcare programs, schools and day camps, employers with high-risk workers, restaurants and bars, and mass transit administrators.

“As businesses and other organizations gradually open after the COVID-19-related slowdown, they will need to consider a variety of measures for keeping people safe,” CDC says. “These considerations include practices for scaling up operations, safety actions (e.g., cleaning and disinfection, social distancing), monitoring possible re-emergence of illness, and maintaining health operations.“

Critics of the Administration had faulted President Trump for encouraging states to begin reopening businesses before the CDC had a chance to weigh in with its recommendations on how they should proceed, which are embodied in the guidance that was published on May 26. Many states already had forged ahead with their own reopening plans after obtaining input and advice from a variety of sources.

In addition, other federal and state agencies had adopted other CDC guidelines when they were in the process of developing recommendations for employers who continued to operate during the quarantine as essential businesses and operations, like emergency and medical services. Many of those guidelines appear to have been incorporated into current state reopening plans.

The agency recommends a three-phased plan for reopening that outlines an approach for relaxing community mitigation measures while protecting vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. Along with the three-phased approach, the CDC proposes the use of six “gating criteria” to be assessed before progressing into the next phase of reopening.

This approach can be implemented statewide or community-by-community at each state governor’s discretion, according to the CDC.

These gating criteria include decreases in newly identified COVID-19 cases, decreases in emergency department and/or outpatient visits for COVID-19-like illness, and the existence of minimum infrastructure necessary for a robust testing program.

As an example, to enter Phase 1 of reopening, a community would assess the gating criteria of decreases in newly identified cases and would need to determine whether there is a downward trajectory (or near-zero incidence) of documented cases over a 14-day period.

Consideration between phases should be given to such factors as existing public health capacity based on certain measurable criteria, such as contact tracing and incidence relative to local public health resources, notes the law firm of Greenberg Traurig LLP.

“The guidance acknowledges some communities may progress sequentially through the reopening phases while other jurisdictions may end up moving backwards at certain points, based on an ongoing assessment of the gating criteria against the threshold for entering each phase,” it says.

Where Employers Fit

When it comes to state and local supervision of the reopening of different businesses the CDC recommends the imposition of a three-step process for scaling up. These steps are scaling up for businesses only if they can ensure:

Step 1: Strict social distancing, proper cleaning and disinfecting requirements, and protection of their workers and customers; workers at higher risk for severe illness are recommended to shelter in place.

Step 2: Moderate social distancing, proper cleaning and disinfecting requirements, and protection of their workers and customers; workers at higher risk for severe illness are recommended to shelter in place.

Step 3: Limited social distancing, proper cleaning and disinfecting requirements, and protection of their workers and customers.

For individual workplaces that begin to scale up activities towards pre-COVID-19 operating practices, CDC acknowledges that some workers are at higher risk for COVID-19. These include workers over age 65 and those with underlying medical conditions, such as chronic lung disease, hypertension, weakened immunity, or severe obesity.

Workers at higher risk for severe illness should be encouraged to self-identify, and employers should avoid making unnecessary medical inquiries, stress attorneys Thomas Gies, Thomas Koegel, Kris Meade and Tyler Brown of the Crowell & Moring law firm.

“Employers should consider carefully how to reduce workers’ risk of exposure to COVID-19 consistent with relevant Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) regulations and guidance previously issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),” they add.

To protect higher risk employees, CDC suggests that, throughout all three of the reopening steps, employers should consider various solutions, such as:

● Supporting and encouraging options to telework.
● Offering workers at higher risk duties that minimize their contact with customers and other employees (e.g., restocking shelves rather than working as a cashier), if agreed to by the worker.
● Encouraging contractors and other entities sharing the same work space to follow CDC guidance.
● Attempting to reduce potential community spread by adopting steps to eliminate travel by employees to workplaces in lower transmission areas and vice versa.

The suggested best practices for employers can vary depending on the numbered step adopted by their state government. The CDC points out, “the scope and nature of community mitigation suggested decreases from Step 1 to Step 3” but ultimately, “some amount of community mitigation is necessary across all steps until a vaccine or therapeutic drug becomes widely available.”

Most employers have heard of the CDC’s recommended best practices, which cover among other things promoting healthy hygiene practices; intensifying cleaning, disinfection and ventilation; promoting social distancing; limiting sharing; and training all staff. Also included are checking for signs and symptoms; planning for what to do when employees get sick; and how to maintain healthy operations.

Attorneys Lori Armstrong Halber and Leora Grushka of the Reed Smith law firm urge that businesses operating “typical” workplaces (meaning they are not childcare, schools, restaurants/bars, or mass transit) should also consider the following key takeaways:

● Continue to implement social distancing through all three reopening steps. Businesses operating in-person services should stagger or rotate shifts whenever possible and consider video- or tele-conference calls over in-person meetings.
● Limit group gatherings to no more than 10 people during Step 1 and no more than 50 people during Step 2. Throughout all of the steps, gatherings should not take place if a distance of six feet cannot be maintained between participants.
● Consider conducting routine, daily health checks or temperature and symptom screening of all employees and encourage all sick employees to stay home. Send employees with symptoms home immediately and have procedures in place to disinfect, notify local authorities and inform employees who may have been in close contact with the sick employee.

Halber and Leora Grushka also recommend that employers should create and maintain a system to encourage their employees to self-report and notify management about any exposure they may have experienced.

“Remember the effect the pandemic may be having on employees and implement flexible practices, including flexible sick leave and telework policies,” they stress. “Additionally, businesses should appoint an individual as a point of contact to respond to COVID-19 concerns and monitor absenteeism.”

The Crowell & Moring lawyers note this new CDC guidance is meant to complement the agency’s previously released decision tools, such as the Workplace Decision Tool, as well as other COVID-19-related Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and CDC guidance. CDC will continue to update this guidance as it develops further best practices.


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The agency said they would allow more impurities in alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

In a statement from the Food and Drug Administration, the federal government announced it would relax regulations on impurities in alcohol-based hand sanitizer. The move, announced today by FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D., is intended to “help ensure widespread access to hand sanitizers during the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

According to the FDA, the agency previously updated its restrictions in April in response to requests from fuel ethanol manufacturers, who had pivoted their supply chains to produce hand sanitizer instead of fuel.

The FDA’s statement said that data produced by those manufacturers showed their fuel ethanol products contained gasoline and benzene, which it said were known carcinogens. The updated guidance allows hand sanitizer to include up to 2 parts per million of benzene.

The coronavirus pandemic has stretched supply chains around the world to the breaking point by playing havoc with the economies and industrial sectors of entire countries. Now, even as the United States has reopened most of its factories, sharp demand for products required to maintain stricter cleanliness standards has put suppliers under strain. The Institute of Supply Managers listed hand sanitizer and a variety of PPE as supplies in notably short supply during May.

The FDA recommends use of hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol as a substitute for washing with ordinary soap and water, and hand sanitizer stations for workers to regularly clean their hands at have become a common feature of reopened factories invested in keeping workers healthy.

While many manufacturers of durable goods have repurposed supply chains to producing face shields, masks, gloves, gowns, and similar products, alcohol-based hand sanitizer has proven a popular COVID-19 relief product for chemical companies and brewers to manufacture at scale. Dow Chemical Co., Ineos, and small distilleries all around the world have turned their stocks of chemical alcohol and chemistry equipment into supply lines for the cleaning agent.


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Washington — Aimed at reducing COVID-19 exposure among construction workers, OSHA has created a new website with guidance for employers.

The website includes a table that describes work tasks and their exposure risk level (from “very high” to “lower”), based on the agency’s occupational risk pyramid for COVID-19. The website also covers engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment. In the administrative controls section are screening questions employers should ask before sending workers into “an indoor environment that may be occupied by a homeowner, customer, worker or another occupant,” and recommended actions based on the answers to those questions.

The website also has a section on cloth face coverings. OSHA warns that “cloth face coverings are not PPE. They are not appropriate substitutes for PPE such as respirators (like N95 respirators) or medical facemasks (like surgical masks) in workplaces where respirators or facemasks are recommended or required to protect the wearer.”

Other recommendations:

• Keep in-person meetings such as toolbox talks as short as possible, limit the number of workers in attendance and keep everyone at least 6 feet apart during the meetings.
• Make sure shared spaces in home environments have proper airflow.
• Stagger work schedules, such as alternating workdays or extra shifts, to reduce the number of employees on a jobsite at one time.

“Employers of workers engaged in construction (such as carpentry, ironworking, plumbing, electrical, heating/air conditioning/ventilation, utility construction work, and earth-moving activities) should remain alert to changing outbreak conditions, including as they relate to community spread of the virus and testing availability,” OSHA states in a May 26 press release. “In response to changing conditions, employers should implement coronavirus infection prevention measures accordingly.”


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Shoppers in all emirates are now glad at the reopening of their favourite shopping destinations after over two months of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With all safety measures, including the sanitisation guidelines approved by the government for the residents, two major malls in Ras Al Khaimah have been reopened.

Benoy Kurien, Group CEO of Al Hamra said, “As per the directives of the Ras Al Khaimah Department of Economic Development, we have reopened our two shopping malls — Al Hamra Mall and Manar Mall in Ras Al Khaimah, which will operate from 10am till 10pm. He further said shoppers are mandated to wear gloves and masks at all times while maintaining a safe social distance of 2.5 metres. “Visitors under 12 and over 60 are not permitted for their own safety. Car parking has been reduced by 50 per cent in order to facilitate social distancing while facilities such as valet parking and car wash will remain suspended.

“As part of safety protocol, thermal scanners have been installed at the entrance of the malls to check the temperature of visitors; anyone above 38˚C will not be permitted to enter.

“We have worked closely with our tenants to ensure that they provide our customers with a safe and comfortable shopping and dining experience. The gymnasium, cinemas, public sitting areas, changing rooms, prayer rooms, and leisure and entertainment attractions will remain closed for now.

He pointed that they have implemented a comprehensive set of measures and precautions in compliance with the issued guidelines to ensure the malls are fully prepared and safe to receive visitors. “The safety of our customers, partners and employees is our utmost priority and we will continue to support and adhere to the guidelines issued by the authorities at all times.

“We are grateful to the UAE government and Department of Economic Development of Ras Al Khaimah (RAKDED) for their tireless efforts and initiatives in ensuring the safety and well-being of residents, and to drive business continuity.”

The Ras Al Khaimah Department of Economic Development, RAKDED, issued two circulars on Monday outlining a series of requirements and procedures for reopening restaurants, cafes and gyms in the emirate, each of which will be allowed to resume operations as of Wednesday, 3rd June, 2020, provided they meet certain requirements.

These measures are in line with precautions undertaken to ensure the health and safety of customers while ensuring business continuity and maintaining RAK’s sustainable development.

In this first circular RAKDED has urged all restaurants and cafes to conduct COVID-19 examinations on all employees to ensure they are negative, sending any staff members who have developed respiratory symptoms home and committing them to seek medical attention immediately. Employees are required to wear protective masks and gloves as a precautionary measure, while customers are encouraged to do the same.

The circular called for shisha to be prohibited in the first phase of implementation — a requirement that will be re-evaluated in the future in accordance with the directives of health authorities in the UAE. Comprehensive and periodic sanitisation must be conducted, in addition to disinfecting equipment each morning, evening and whenever necessary, while recording all such operations.

Establishments are permitted to welcome customers up to 50 per cent of its maximum capacity. It is necessary to create spacing, interfaces and borders between tables to prevent mixing and crowding, with 2 metres between each table. Only four people are allowed per table. If there is a larger number, the tables that fit the number will be combined and spacing created between seats.

All food and beverages must be served in disposable, single-use Styrofoam containers, utensils and/or cups. It is advisable to serve food in single-sized portions intended mainly for one customer to avoid sharing plates as much as possible.

The circular called on restaurants and cafés to encourage e-payment solutions and credit cards to avoid the use of cash, and provide hand sanitisation essentials across the entire establishment, including on every table, which should be disinfected immediately after customers leave. Self-service tables and open buffets are to be avoided, and F&B outlets are required to abide by the working hours set for operating food establishments.


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Washington — OSHA is extending its temporary leniency on annual respirator fit testing to all covered employers, not only those in the health care industry.

According to an April 8 press release, the agency is directing its field offices to exercise “enforcement discretion” on fit-testing regulations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This guidance will remain in effect until further notice.

OSHA issued a memo March 14 stating the agency is allowing health care employers to suspend annual fit testing, in large part, to contend with a nationwide shortage of N95 filtering facepiece respirators.

Employers must still make “good-faith efforts” to comply with OSHA’s respiratory protection regulations, among other steps, including communicating to workers whether annual fit testing is suspended temporarily. The agency also is asking organizations to look at their engineering controls, work practices and administrative controls for any changes that could decrease the need for N95s or other filtering facepiece respirators. Among the suggestions are increasing the use of wet methods, use of portable local exhaust systems, moving work outdoors or suspending non-essential operations.

In response to concerns about a shortage of fit-testing kits and test solutions, OSHA advises employers to reserve fit-testing equipment for workers using respirators for “high-hazard procedures.” Field offices are asked to perform additional enforcement discretion if an employer switches a worker’s respirator to an equivalent-fitting make/model/style/size N95 or other filtering facepiece respirator without performing an initial fit test.

“In the absence of fit-testing capabilities, if a user’s respirator model is out of stock, employers should consult the manufacturer to see if it recommends a different model that fits similarly to the model used previously by employees,” the release states.

OSHA issued two memos April 3 to try to help with the N95 shortage. One allowed for the reuse of N95 respirators and the use of expired N95s in certain cases. The other allowed for the use of filtering facepiece respirators and air-purifying elastomeric respirators certified by other countries or jurisdictions.


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Recent discussions about the possibility of contracting the virus through our eyes are beginning to buzz. Scientists are still studying the virus for the answer, but here’s what experts have to say about the likelihood of eye-contraction and if goggles are necessary.

After virologist and epidemiologist Dr. Joseph Fair recently got ill with COVID-19, he believes he contracted it through his eyes. Fair told NBC that he had been on a crowded flight two weeks earlier, and though he wore a mask and gloves and wiped down his seat, he didn’t have any protection over his eyes.

“You can still get this virus through your eyes, and epidemiologically, it’s the best guess I have of probably how I got it,” Fair said. He said his symptoms started three or four days later, though his four tests for the virus were negative.”

But is this true? Was this a fluke situation? How possible is it to contract the virus through your eyes? Should we be wearing goggles, too? One NPR article notes that the idea that you can contract a virus through your eyes is not new, but it has not been as talked about as other risks of infection through the nose and mouth.

What does the CDC have to say? Well, the CDC says that the nose and mouth are the main avenues by which someone catches the virus, but “it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.”

Dr. Abraar Karan, a physician at Harvard Medical School, explains why. “Any sort of open mucosa [mucous membrane] is a chance for a droplet to land there and get into your body,” she said. But while it’s known that the virus can be transmitted through the eyes, “it’s hard to quantify exactly what the risk is in terms [of] through the eye specifically.”

What’s more is that it is very difficult to detect with certainty the initial avenue of someone’s infection—that is, if the virus entered through the person’s mouth, nose or eyes. “And the evidence so far suggests that eyes are not a primary mode of transmission,” said the article.

What evidence exists? If many people were infected through their eyes, there would be more COVID-19 patients with conjunctivitis—inflammation of the eyes, or pink eye.

If the virus invades and infiltrates your conjunctiva—the clear tissue covering the white part of your eye and the inside of your eyelids—likely “there's going to be inflammation or redness in your eyes,” Steinemann says. Of course, there are many other causes for conjunctivitis, though, so getting pink eye doesn't necessarily mean you have COVID-19.

However, there is another reason eyes are not a likely avenue for COVID-19 infection. According to the NPR article, “the pathway from your eyes into your respiratory system is less direct than via your nose and mouth.”

To infect you via your eyes, the virus would have to penetrate your eyes’ mucous membrane, be washed by tears behind your cheeks into your nasal cavity, and then flow from the nose into your throat. “It’s a more circuitous route,” says Steinemann.

As it turns out, your eyes naturally have more protective barriers for things like viruses—more than your mouth and nose do.

What precautions should you take to protect your eyes? Well, the basic precautions against COVID-19 still apply: wash your hands, practice social distancing and “don’t touch your face”—which means don’t rub your eyes.

However, some airlines like Qatar Airlines are asking flight attendants to wear safety goggles in its latest announcement. This makes the public wonder if they should be doing the same. But keep in mind that healthcare settings do require eye coverings and face shields—mostly because they are workers are working face-to-face with potential COVID-19 patients.

Whether or not your need eye protection depends on your job. Most office jobs will not likely require the workers wear eye protection. You do not need face shields or goggles when going to the grocery store, walking outside etc.

On the other hand, Steinemann said, “if you are in close proximity to somebody screaming at you or talking to you or coughing in your face, or if you work in a hospital, suctioning people who are in an intensive care unit — those types of situations are extremely high risk, not only to your nose and your mouth, but also to your eyes. In a high-risk situation, I would definitely recommend the use of a full-face shield and goggles.”

What about the case of the virologist on the packed airplane? Steinemann says if he was on a crowded plane with an inability to keep a safe distance from others, goggles or face coverings might not be a bad idea.


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California employers now must protect worker from both COVID-19 infections and heat illness as the National Weather Service (NWS) has issued extreme heat warnings for several parts of the state. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) reminded employers they must assess each worksite and protect their workers from heat illness while also taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. COVID-19 currently is widespread in the community and considered a workplace hazard.

California’s heat illness prevention standard applies to all outdoor workers, including those in agriculture, construction and landscaping. The standard also applies where workers spend a significant amount of time working outdoors such as security guards and groundskeepers, as well as delivery and transportation and drivers who spend time in non-air-conditioned vehicles.

NWS has issued heat advisories this week for Lake and Mendocino Counties, parts of northern Los Angeles County, and many parts of the San Francisco Bay Area.

While there is no corresponding federal standard for heat stress or heat illness prevention, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigates and cites incidents of worker heat illness under the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. A coalition led by Public Citizen has repeatedly petitioned OSHA and the Secretary of Labor for such a standard. House Democrats last year introduced legislation that would require OSHA to establish an emergency heat illness standard.

Under California’s heat illness prevention standard, employers with outdoor workers must take the following steps to prevent heat illness:

• Develop and implement an effective written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures;
• Train all employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention;
• Provide drinking water that is fresh, pure, suitably cool and free of charge so that each worker can drink at least 1 quart per hour, and encourage workers to do so; and
• Provide shade when workers request it or when temperatures exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit and encourage workers to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating – workers should not wait until they feel sick to cool down.

While protecting workers from heat illness, employers should provide cloth face coverings or allow workers to use their own to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, employers should be aware that wearing face coverings can make it more difficult to breathe and harder for a worker to cool off, so additional breaks may be needed to prevent overheating.

At this time, Cal/OSHA does not recommend that agricultural and other outdoor workers use surgical or respirator masks as face coverings.

Employers should ensure there is enough space and time for employees to take breaks as needed in adequate shade while also maintaining a safe distance from one another, according to the agency.

Extra infection prevention measures should be in place such as disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, including the water and restroom facilities.

While COVID-19 is considered a workplace hazard, California’s aerosol transmissible disease (ATD) standard does not apply to agriculture, construction, and landscaping employers.


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