Why Do Construction Workers Wear Masks
During Construction Work
In the past, wearing a mask during construction work was strongly advised due to the number of contaminants released during construction and improvement projects. Toxins such as drywall dust, mold, mildew, paint fumes, and air particles get into the lungs and cause allergies, wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Long-term effects include stomach and digestive problems, coordination loss, insomnia, COPD, kidney and lung damage, organ failure, and cancer. Fast forward to the last year and a half and construction workers are urged to wear masks for another totally different reason - the risk of COVID 19 spreading.
Personal Protection Equipment OSHA Requirements
OSHA issues and executes PPE for safety on every job site. Most sites have common demands when it comes to PPE, but not all areas need a mask. So, why do construction workers wear masks? OSHA uses a complicated process to determine the appropriate precautions for each potential hazard. They also regulate the type of masks suitable for a particular risk, including thickness and performance.
Four Degrees Of Defense
OSHA utilizes four levels of barriers. Each one is unique in the peril it represents. These four degrees are:
- Level A is the highest risk of exposure and requires respiratory, skin, and eye protection. In this case, a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) or air respirator is deemed necessary. Additional coverings are chemical-resistant clothing, gloves, and boots.
- Next, is Level B, which has the same specifications for respiratory care as Level A. The difference is less skin protection although it must still contain chemical resistance.
- The third option is Level C with a full or half-face mask with air-purifying respirators. Clothing required must be chemical-resistant as well.
- Level D is used for nuisance pollution only. The face mask is an escape mask along with a face shield.
Face Masks On The Work Site To Prevent COVID-19
While safety goggles, hard hats, fall protection, and high visibility vests are required on construction worksites, masks are optional except in certain circumstances. OSHA does recommend face masks to protect against the virus, but has not issued a mandate. Since a face mask is meant to protect others and not the wearer, it isn't considered PPE. This leaves the question of mask-wearing hanging.
Some states have stringent laws on the work site concerning face coverings. Washington requires eye protection, masks, and gloves for every contractor on a job site. If caught without these PPE, the site is shut down. In other areas, where the virus is less prevalent, specifications are more relaxed.
Construction sites are often large and workers spread out. This makes it burdensome to enforce mask-wearing at all times. Constant monitoring isn't practical and if social distancing is possible, face masks aren't really necessary. However, there are many places where workers are in close contact, but may push back when asked to wear masks. Part of the issue is that many construction workers are young and believe they are immune to illness or injury. Additionally, workers who are outdoors in the heat can easily become overheated and communication, which is vital for safety, is also difficult.
So, why do construction workers wear masks for COVID-19 purposes? The CDC originally issued a statement saying that masks weren't recommended, but then changed that standard in April 2020. This caused confusion among the general public, which makes mask mandates appear inconsequential. The CDC does state that face coverings help to contain respiratory droplets that spread the virus to others.
Best Face Mask For Construction Workers
OSHA is quick to point out that surgical or cloth masks are not suitable to protect against any of the harmful fumes or dust that are released during construction. Construction managers must be aware of the need to protect workers against toxins. Continuing education is key.
The N95 mask is most often the preferred mask for COVID 19 safeguarding and is sometimes used to shield workers from toxins. If unavailable, other NIOSH-approved masks such as N99, P95, N100, P99, P100, R95, R99, and R100 are also great options.
Guidelines and suggestions for successful mask usage include ensuring that management and supervisors wear masks to set the example, not reusing disposable masks, providing clean masks for employees every day, encouraging workers to cover their nose and mouth during exposure to others, and constantly educating and reminding workers of the importance of protection.