Heat Stress & Face Masks

When summer heats up there is a focus on heat illness.

Q. What effect do face masks have on people who wear them for COVID-19 prevention?

A. Face masks may increase the risk of heat stress when working in hot conditions. General CDC & Cal/OSHA guidance recommends allowing employees to remove face masks when working in hot conditions - if safe social distancing can be maintained.

Q. What happens if employees cannot maintain enough distance from each other?

A. If a safe enough distance is not able to be maintained to allow for the removal of face masks, an employer can take other measures to reduce the risk of heat stress, such as:

  • Increasing breaks

  • Reducing work schedules

  • Scheduling demanding tasks for cooler parts of the day

Face masks and social distancing help prevent the spread of COVID-19, however they can also add risk when identifying the signs or contributing factors of heat stress. Many employers use a buddy system in which pairs of workers monitor one another during their shift for signs and symptoms of heat stress.

The increased distance due to COVID-19 precautions can make it more difficult to accomplish social distancing. Face masks can pose an additional risk and challenge by making the signs of heat stress more difficult to recognize.

To provide countermeasures for these challenges, employers may need to rely more on verbal communications, wherein a trained supervisor or other responsible party can ask the person about whether there are any signs or symptoms of heat stress routinely during work hours, and less on visual monitoring. A reliable method of communications is absolutely necessary.

Q. What can employers do in order to be extra safe with heat exposed workers?

A. Employers with workers who exposed to heat stress hazards must increase their focus on maintaining the standard precautions for preventing heat illness (Listed Below), as well as take extra precautions as may be required depending the level of risk:

  • Monitoring the heat index and adjusting work activities accordingly

  • Ensure that workers have an adequate supply of fresh, cool water

  • Make sure that workers have ample opportunity stay hydrated

  • Encourage workers to take frequent cool-down breaks

  • Make sure that workers have close access to a shaded area