Washington L&I Issues Strict Face-Covering Requirements

Nancy Grover

Tumwater, WA (WorkersCompensation.com) – Many workers in Washington state are under orders to wear certain types of face coverings as of today. The state’s Department of Labor and Industries issued requirements for “when workers should use cloth face coverings and masks to protect others from the coronavirus, and when workers are required to use respirators to protect themselves.”

It applies to all workers except those treating active COVID-19 patients in healthcare facilities, who must adhere to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The document describes various risk levels for employees and the different types of face coverings:

  • Cloth face coverings help keep particles you exhale from escaping into the air, but don’t effectively filter out particles already in the air from others.
  • Masks are usually more protective than cloth face coverings.
  • Respirators offer a higher level of protection than face coverings and masks because they also prevent wearers from inhaling particles already in the air.

“All three provide some protection when a person coughs and sneezes near you,” the document says; “some that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provide more protection against coughs and sneezes.”

There are 5 levels of risk described: negligible or very low, low, medium, high and extremely high.

  1. Workers with ‘negligible’ risk for contracting COVID-19 may need to wear cloth face coverings if, for example, if they work outdoors or “in a building while around, but separate, from several other people and only to pass within six feet of them once or twice a day.” However, telecommuters who work alone would not be required to wear a mask.
  2. Low-risk workers must use a reusable cloth face covering. Risk is considered ‘low’ for workers who work around or travel with others and stay at least six feet apart, “except for briefly passing by others up to several times a day,” the document says. One or two workers who provide personal services to health clients are also considered at low risk.

Some examples of low-risk workers are those employed in light manufacturing facilities set up to keep workers separated while doing their jobs; custodial staff who work after hours “and do not clean up after known COVID-19 cases; one or two workers in an area providing haircuts or other personal services to clients, who also wear a face covering; waiters at establishments with curbside pick-up services only; mechanics at repair shops.

  1. Disposable masks are required for workers at medium risk of transmission. Medium risk is defined as workers who “stay at least six feet away from others except for several times throughout the day when the six-foot distance is broken for several minutes and prevention measures such as physical barriers aren’t feasible,” according to the document. “Risk is also considered medium when three to six people work in a room providing personal services to healthy clients who wear a cloth face covering.” Examples of medium-risk jobs are commercial fishers, grocery-store produce stockers who sometimes work around customers, manicurists, kitchen workers, ride-service drivers “who only pick up masked passengers,” and transit operators.

Disposable masks do not necessarily need approved from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or the Food and Drug administration. They can be dust masks designed for hobbies, surgical-style masks and KN90s or KN95s approved outside the U.S.

  1. Workers at high risk are required to wear respirators approved by NIOSH or similar agencies outside the U.S. High-risk workers include those who work or travel “within three feet of others for more than 10 minutes an hour, many times a day and other prevention measures aren’t feasible.” Also, people who clean areas recently occupied by someone with COVID-19 and those who provide services in homes of people with COVID-19 are additional examples of high-risk workers.
  2. Workers considered at extremely high risk must wear NIOSH-approved N95s, half- or full-face piece elastomeric respirators with cartridges, or Powered Air-Purifying Respirators with cartridges; FDA-approved N95s or surgical masks; or other respirators with NIOSH equivalent approval. These workers must use additional personal protective equipment, such as goggles or face shields. ‘Extremely high risk’ pertains to people who “work in residential or non-hospital or clinic settings within six feet of people with COVID-19,” the document says. Examples are emergency medical technicians, workers in long-term care facilities, and therapists working with quarantined clients.

Employers must provide respirators for those required to wear them.

Face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing. “In addition to staying six feet away from others, you must still practice frequent handwashing, frequent cleaning and/or disinfecting of surfaces and tools, and follow other critical safety measures required by the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I),” the document says.

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