PPE Selection for Working Safely in Construction During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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As many countries around the world begin to return to the workplace, companies may be considering additional requirements and reevaluating personal protective equipment (PPE) choices to help protect workers from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Traditionally, when workers need PPE, employers must comply with all applicable workplace standards and regulations regarding selection and use of PPE. One example is the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard for PPE in construction (29 CFR 1926 Subpart E), which requires employees to use gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection when job hazards warrant it. OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard 29 CFR 1910.134 mandates that, when respirators are necessary to protect workers, employers must implement a comprehensive respiratory protection program.

This strain of novel coronavirus is currently believed to spread from person to person, when an infected person’s respiratory droplets, perhaps from talking, coughing or sneezing, land in others’ eyes, nose or mouth. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that being within 6 ft. (2m) for 15 minutes or more of an infected person’s respiratory emissions increases others’ chances of receiving enough virus to potentially be infected.[1] Another possible route of infection, not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, includes contacting infected surfaces and then touching the eyes, nose or mouth may also help spread the disease.[2]

Social Distancing PPE Solutions

Respiratory Protection Options

Since the CDC now recommends face coverings and U.S. OSHA recommends face masks as a public health measure[3], employers may want a better understanding of the differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks, and respirators. The following table helps highlight some of these differences. See 3M’s video on the differences between respirators and masks for more information.

Table A: Comparison of Face Coverings, Face Masks, and Filtering Facepiece Respirators

Comparison Feature Cloth Face Covering Procedure/
Surgical Masks
Filtering Facepiece Respirators (FFRs)
 

Photo

 

Cloth Face Covering 3M Surgical Mask3M Surgical procedure mask
Description Cloth mask used to cover mouth and nose. Disposable procedure mask used to cover nose and mouth. Surgical mask also provides fluid barrier. Disposable, respirator used to cover nose and mouth.
Certification None FDA (surgical) NIOSH
Fit on face Loose Loose Tight
Intended Use May help contain spit or phlegm expelled by the wearer, like covering a cough or sneeze with a face tissue. Designed to help reduce liquid droplets that are expelled by the wearer.  Fluid barrier in surgical mask is designed to help protect the wearer from splashes of bodily fluids. Designed to help protect the wearer from potential airborne hazards.
Will help reduce the wearer’s exposure to airborne particulate hazards when properly selected and worn No No Yes, NIOSH approved N95 FFRs are at least 95% efficient in filtering non-oily particulates per NIOSH 42 CFR 84.

This table provides general information concerning the products shown. Always read and follow all User Instructions and applicable guidance.

Hearing Protection Options3M Construction COVID LiteCom Hearing Protection Social Distancing

To help maintain at least 6ft. (2m) of separation, consider using communication devices that protect hearing and have integrated radios for conversation to help workers to speak to each other while maintaining their distance from one another.

U.S. OSHA Construction Work Risk Level PPE Guidance

OSHA has now also provided additional guidance on exposure risk levels for COVID-19. In OSHA’s “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID19,” a control banding approach is provided based on levels of risk exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Levels include Low, Medium, High and Very High. OSHA anticipates that most construction work will be low or medium risk, with some opportunities for high risk tasks. OSHA has applied these risk categories in their construction-specific guidance to include the following:

  • For low risk tasks, OSHA recommends, “Most construction workers are unlikely to need PPE beyond what they use to protect themselves during routine job tasks. Such PPE may include a hard hat, gloves, safety glasses, and a face mask.”
  • For medium risk tasks, where administrative and engineering controls may not adequately protect, adequate PPE should be provided. This may include gloves, eye protection, and/or face shields.
  • Close contact tasks within 6 ft (2m) with someone suspected or confirmed of COVID-19, respiratory protection may be needed. The Center for Construction Research and Training’s (CWPR’s) COVID19 Standards for US Construction Sites, recommends an N95 or higher respiratory protection for close contact in enclosed spaces.

The 3M document, “Optimizing Supplies of Filtering Facepiece Respirators: U.S. Non-Healthcare Workplaces”, can help with understanding respiratory protection options in the case of shortages, as well as, strategies to extend existing supplies of filtering facepiece respirators, including limited reuse of filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) where appropriate and now required.

We also encourage you to check out our other blogs in this series for more information about how to appropriately disinfect different types of PPE as well as general guidelines to help construction workers work safely during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Connect with Our Resources

We have many different types of solutions to help you as you plan for safe construction worksites, from innovative products to world-class training and technical support. For more resources, visit www.3m.com/coronavirus. We encourage you to download our full working safely in construction during the COVID-19 pandemic guidance document. For more information about the construction industry, please visit our construction safety website and please do not hesitate to contact your local 3M representative for more information on product-specific solutions.


Resources: 

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/public-health-recommendations.html

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-covid-spreads.html

[3] https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/construction.html, https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/covid-19-back-workplace-adapting-workplaces-and-protecting-workers/view, https://oshwiki.eu/wiki/COVID-19:_guidance_for_the_workplace#See