BlogEmployee Articles

Toolbox Talk: Voluntary Respirators & Cloth Face Coverings

By April 7, 2020 No Comments

During this time for those still performing essential work, employees may want to use voluntary respirators while on the job.

We wanted to review what voluntary use of a respirator entails and also share the CDC’s instructions for making your own cloth face covering during this pandemic while supplies for masks are low. Whether it is now due to pandemic concerns, or any other concern in the future, if an employee chooses to voluntary wear a respirator while working, the proper Garco form must be on file for use in Washington State. A Federal OSHA version is available on request. Please see your foreman, superintendent or the Safety Department for any questions.

Voluntary Use Defined

The first thing the employer must do is make sure that the respirator use is actually “voluntary” as defined in both OSHA and WAC Respiratory Protection Standard. In order for the use to be voluntary (and, thus exempt from many of regulatory respiratory protection requirements), two factors have to be considered:

  • Is there an atmospheric hazard that necessitates the use of respiratory protection?
  • Does the employer require the respirator use?

If either of the above questions can be answered “yes,” then the usage is not considered voluntary. In other words, if the employer requires employees to wear respirators, even if there is no hazardous atmosphere, then all of the applicable Respiratory Protection Standard requirements (e.g., fit test, medical evaluation, and cleaning) apply — even for a dust mask respirator.

Why Would an Employee Want to Voluntarily Wear a Respirator?

In order to become more comfortable with voluntary respirator use, it helps to understand why employees may want to wear a respirator, even though the employer has proven there’s no hazard. One example, perhaps the most common, is illustrated in OSHA’s Preamble to the Respiratory Protection Final Rule:

“. . . some employees who have seasonal allergies may request a mask for comfort when working outdoors, or an employee may request a dust mask for use while sweeping a dusty floor. . . ”

But there are other reasons. For example, an employee who works with a smelly solvent to clean parts may find comfort in a respirator, even though the employer has evaluated the exposure and determined it is within acceptable limits. In these situations, the employer may know there isn’t a health risk but still wants employees to be comfortable when doing the job; this might be a case where voluntary respirator use is appropriate.  

Voluntary Use Requirements

When deciding whether or not to allow voluntary use of a respirator, there are two sets of OSHA requirements with which employers must be familiar. One set is for dust masks (known as filtering facepiece respirators). The other set is for all other types of respirators (Garco does not have a voluntary use program for any other types of respirators).

 Voluntary use of a dust mask
If an employee wants to use a dust mask on a voluntary basis, then there are very limited requirements with which employers must comply. OSHA places two requirements on employers when it comes to allowing employees to wear dust masks voluntarily:

  1. Employers must determine that the masks themselves do not pose a hazard to workers; and
  2. Employers must provide the information found in Table 2 of WAC 296-842 Respiratory Protection Standard to workers on a one-time basis. This table provides important information the employee needs to know about wearing dust masks.

Employers are not required to provide any medical evaluation or fit test for voluntary use of a dust mask.

What About Facial Hair?
Unlike for required respirator use, OSHA does not prohibit employees from having facial hair when they use a tight-fitting respirator voluntarily — because the air is safe to breathe. But, OSHA does discourage this and recommends following sound industrial hygiene practices, as well as the manufacturer’s instructions, even for voluntary use.

 

Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19

How to Wear a Cloth Face Covering

Applying a face mask - step 1

Cloth face coverings should—

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • include multiple layers of fabric
  • allow for breathing without restriction
  • be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

CDC on Homemade Cloth Face Coverings

CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.  Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.

Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators.  Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.

Applying a face mask - step 2

Should cloth face coverings be washed or otherwise cleaned regularly? How regularly?

Yes. They should be routinely washed depending on the frequency of use.

How does one safely sterilize/clean a cloth face covering?

A washing machine should suffice in properly washing a face covering.

How does one safely remove a used cloth face covering?

Individuals should be careful not to touch their eyes, nose, and mouth when removing their face covering and wash hands immediately after removing.

Sew and No Sew Instructions

Sewn Cloth Face Covering

Sewing a facemask - materials needed

Materials

  • Two 10”x6” rectangles of cotton fabric
  • Two 6” pieces of elastic (or rubber bands, string, cloth strips, or hair ties)
  • Needle and thread (or bobby pin)
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine

Tutorial

1. Cut out two 10-by-6-inch rectangles of cotton fabric. Use tightly woven cotton, such as quilting fabric or cotton sheets. T-shirt fabric will work in a pinch. Stack the two rectangles; you will sew the mask as if it was a single piece of fabric.

Sewing a facemask - step 1

2. Fold over the long sides ¼ inch and hem. Then fold the double layer of fabric over ½ inch along the short sides and stitch down.

Sewing a facemask - step 2

3. Run a 6-inch length of 1/8-inch wide elastic through the wider hem on each side of the mask. These will be the ear loops. Use a large needle or a bobby pin to thread it through. Tie the ends tight.
Don’t have elastic? Use hair ties or elastic head bands. If you only have string, you can make the ties longer and tie the mask behind your head.

Sewing a facemask - step 3

4. Gently pull on the elastic so that the knots are tucked inside the hem. Gather the sides of the mask on the elastic and adjust so the mask fits your face. Then securely stitch the elastic in place to keep it from slipping.

Sewing a facemask - step 4

Quick Cut T-shirt Face Covering (no sew method)

Materials

  • T-shirt
  • Scissors

Tutorial

Sewing a facemask - step 1
Creating a facemask from a tshirt - step 2
Creating a facemask from a tshirt - step 3

Bandanna Face Covering (no sew method)

Materials

  • Bandanna (or square cotton cloth approximately 20”x20”)
  • Coffee filter
  • Rubber bands (or hair ties)
  • Scissors (if you are cutting your own cloth)

Tutorial

Creating a facemask from a bandanna - step 1
Creating a facemask from a bandanna - step 2
Creating a facemask from a bandanna - step 3
Creating a facemask from a bandanna - step 4
Creating a facemask from a bandanna - step 5
Creating a facemask from a bandanna - step 6
Creating a facemask from a bandanna - step 7

Remember, safety is your best tool!