COVID-19, Personal Protective Equipment

Study: Mask Supplies, Policies Lowered COVID-19 Risks

National COVID-19 occupational safety and health guidelines that include providing face coverings or personal protective equipment (PPE) and instituting face covering policies were associated with lowered COVID-19 risk, according to a new study.

Brigham Young University researchers looked at how closely COVID-19 occupational safety and health guidelines in 36 countries conformed to recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO).

COVID-19 occupational safety and health guidelines such as providing PPE for workers and creating workplace policies for wearing PPE were significantly related to decreased COVID-19 risk, death risk, and/or case-fatality proportion, according to the researchers.

The study also cited research findings that masks do not endanger individuals but may cause minor reactions like headaches or skin irritation. While previous research had found a slight decrease in blood oxygen levels among surgeons who wore masks, their oxygen levels stayed within a healthy range. Some of the decreases in blood oxygen could be due to stress or other factors.

The study of 36 countries from all 6 world health regions, including the United States, found that nations adopted a median of 8 of WHO’s 15 recommendations.

WHO’s recommendations included:

  • Determining the workplace level of risk through a risk assessment;
  • Deciding on the ability to reopen given the risks;
  • Providing hand-washing or sanitation stations in the workplace;
  • Encouraging regular hand-washing;
  • Providing PPE, including surgical masks, for all workers;
  • Creating a workplace policy for wearing PPE at work;
  • Requiring 1 meter (approximately 3 feet) of physical distancing;
  • Rearranging the workplace to include physical barriers to promote physical distancing;
  • Staggering work shifts or having employees work remotely when possible;
  • Canceling or postponing work travel;
  • Regularly disinfecting the workplace, especially high-touch surfaces;
  • Creating an environment of continuous COVID-19 education in the workplace;
  • Requiring sick or symptomatic workers to stay home and quarantine, as well as implementing protocols, to limit others’ exposure as sick or symptomatic employees leave the workplace if symptoms commence during work hours;
  • Increasing the workplace ventilation rate by natural or artificial means and avoiding recirculation, especially in medium-high-risk workplaces; and
  • Creating a workplace plan of action for the prevention of COVID-19.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) current COVID-19 guidelines include:

  • Facilitating employee vaccination;
  • Instructing any workers who are infected, unvaccinated workers who have had close contact with someone who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and all workers with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home from work;
  • Implementing physical distancing, generally 6 feet, in all communal work areas for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers or using remote work or staggered shifts to limit the number of workers present;
  • Providing workers with face coverings or surgical masks, unless their work task requires a respirator or other PPE;
  • Educating and training workers on the employer’s COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and languages they understand;
  • Suggesting or requiring that unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests wear face coverings in public-facing workplaces, such as retail establishments, and that all customers, visitors, or guests wear face coverings in public, indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission;
  • Maintaining ventilation systems according to guidelines from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and
  • Performing routine cleaning and disinfection.

OSHA’s employer guidelines also include three administrative or compliance recommendations: recording and reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths; implementing whistleblower antiretaliation policies; and complying with other applicable agency standards, such as bloodborne pathogens (BBP), employee access to medical and exposure records, PPE, respiratory protection, and sanitation.

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