OSHA Advises Masks for All in High-Risk Workplaces

Both vaccinated and unvaccinated workers in areas of high COVID-19 spread should wear face coverings.

August 17, 2021

Convenience Store Worker

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration Friday issued updated guidance indicating that fully vaccinated workers in areas with high community spread of COVID-19 should wear face masks to protect unvaccinated workers, who also must wear face coverings, in higher-risk workplaces where there is prolong close contact with other employees and/or the public.

The agency said OSHA’s updated guidance is in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated COVID-19 guidance issued July 27.

The updated guidance expands information on measures for protecting workers in higher-risk workplaces with mixed-vaccination status workers, particularly for industries such as manufacturing; meat, seafood and poultry processing; high volume retail and grocery; and agricultural processing.

OSHA also recommends that fully vaccinated workers who have close contacts with people with coronavirus wear masks for up to 14 days unless they have a negative coronavirus test at least three to five days after such contact.

OSHA said it continues to emphasize that vaccination is the optimal step to protect workers and encourages employers to engage with workers and their representatives to implement multi-layered approaches to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers from the coronavirus.

As part of the agency’s ongoing commitment to review the COVID-19 Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard every 30 days, OSHA said the ETS requirements “remain necessary to address the grave danger of the coronavirus in health care. OSHA will continue to monitor and assess the need for changes in the healthcare ETS each month.”

Earlier this month, NACS joined nine other associations in a letter to three U.S. agencies, including OSHA, requesting clarification on the recently issued CDC mask guidance, saying the enforcement burden should not be placed on retail employees.

The letter asked the agencies “to prioritize the safety of our employees and clarify that businesses should not be the enforcers of mask wearing.” The letter pointed out how embattled frontline retail employees have been during the COVID-19 pandemic while continuing to serve the public with food, fuel and other necessities. When some localities put the onus of mask enforcement on retailers, many confrontations became heated and physical, including several deaths related to mask enforcement.

Coronavirus Resources
NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis, including information about how to educate employees about the vaccines and other vaccine-related human resources advice. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.