Many sites are currently requiring face coverings to be worn or are highly recommending them with social distancing rules in place. However, it has become difficult lately to attain the N95 masks that we are accustomed to wearing when working on site. This is why Construction Dive has recently posted an article analyzing which face coverings are best for preventing the spread of COVID-19 at the jobsite.
Researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science conducted extensive testing to find out which masks are the most effective. Overall, they found that tighter fitting, thicker face coverings are superior. These coverings will decrease the distance that cough droplets can travel dramatically which in turn, will help protect others. They found that the distance droplets can travel from an uncovered cough are significantly higher than the recommended 6’ distancing guideline. Their results are as follows, “without a mask, droplets traveled more than 8 feet; with a bandana, they traveled 3 feet, 7 inches; with a folded cotton handkerchief, they traveled 1 foot, 3 inches; with the stitched quilted cotton mask, they traveled 2.5 inches; and with the cone-style mask, droplets traveled about 8 inches.”
In the past, most sites have used N95 respirators, these are made to protect the user from at least 95% of harmful particles in the air. Since these masks are being used mainly for medical professionals currently, they are not easy to find and buy. OSHA has recently declared that cloth masks are not considered PPE and cannot be used in place of a respirator when respirators are required (you can find more information on OSHA’s respirator guidance here). Not all hope is lost though, other classifications of respirators will be acceptable for the construction site and are easier to obtain. This would be any respirator that is equivalent to N95 or higher. Some specific examples are N99, N100, R95, R99, R100, P95, P99 and P100.
Another alternative, is to provide workers with face shields. Some argue face shields are more effective than masks because they protect the eyes, nose, and mouth, and eliminate the chances of someone breathing in their own CO2 or fogging their safety glasses which could be an additional safety hazard. However, the CDC does not recommend using a face shield as a SUBSTITUTE for cloth face coverings unless they wrap around the sides of their face and extend below the chin. They do state that a face shield works very well in ADDITION to a cloth face covering.
Some other tips recommended for mask wearing are, to only wear them once and if machine washable, wash in between each use (CDC guidance on washing found here). Confirm that the mask covers both your nose AND mouth and is secured under your chin and fits snugly against your face (droplets can still escape through the tops and bottom of a mask). Make sure that you can breathe easily. Wash your hands each time you put your mask on, if you touch it while wearing it, and after you properly remove it (CDC guidance on removal found here). Dispose of masks that you no longer want to use. You can find a video here about how to make your own cloth face covering at home.
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