Frequently Asked Questions about Masks

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As the COVID-19 crisis continues, N95 masks have become an important part of the discussion. N95 masks filter out small particles in the air and are very popular with painters, sanders and drywall contractors to protect against silica and other nuisance dust. They are also beneficial for healthcare workers on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, they have been in high demand and are currently sold out among many legitimate online retailers.

This shortage has been a source of concern for jobsites. Here are a few common questions to help builders determine how to implement appropriate safety measures.

Is there any avenue for builders to purchase the OSHA required masks for employees? Even the alternative masks that OSHA lists as acceptable alternatives to N95 are impossible to find.

There is a distinct difference between respirators (i.e., N95) and other masks (e.g., surgical masks, nuisance dust masks with one strap). Respirators (covered by OSHA regulations) are designed to reduce a worker’s exposure to airborne contaminants, while surgical masks protect other people against infection/COVID-19 from the person wearing the surgical mask (not considered respirators by OSHA and are not covered by their respiratory protection standard). Unfortunately, all N95 respirators, as well as other types of dusk masks, are in very short supply, and NAHB has not secured any supplier for respirators or masks for distribution to members.

When in residential construction is this OSHA protection is required (e.g., exposure to silica dust, concealed space)?

It is really difficult to make a blanket statement because the concentration of harmful airborne contaminants, such as dust from silica, wood, lead paint, drywall, soil/dirt, etc., vary by tasks and jobsite conditions. Because of the shortages of respirators, NAHB has been encouraging employers to reassess their engineering controls, work practices, (e.g., wet cut concrete or use dust collection) and administrative controls (e.g., limiting the amount of time workers perform task) for dusty operations to identify any changes they can make to decrease the need for respirators.

Are there other instances in which builders should be wearing masks?

Right now, there is not a one size fits all approach to wearing face coverings on construction jobsites to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 — it is up to each locale and employer to make a determination if it is necessary.

The CDC currently recommends wearing cloth face coverings (not respirators) 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 of COVID-19. Also, some local jurisdictions are requiring face coverings when in public.

For additional safety tips, check out NAHB's coronavirus safety resources.

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