Face Coverings: Key Considerations for Maximizing Comfort and Cost Savings
What should employers look for in face shields to ensure everyone stays protected?
As the United States makes progress against COVID-19, businesses and workplaces are reopening to greater capacities for workers and customers. Naturally, continuing to maintain worker safety is paramount in all industries, not just those deemed high risk. OSHA recently updated their COVID-19-specific guidance at the end of January 2021 and continues to recommend employers provide face coverings for all workers to wear while on duty. In addition, certain workers may also need to wear face shields for additional protection of their respirators or other face coverings to prevent them from getting wet or soiled. While there has been plenty of discussion surrounding the design and materials of face masks, there has not been as much surrounding face shields. So, what should employers look for in PPE like face shields to ensure everyone stays protected—and is able to perform their jobs comfortably throughout the entire workday?
By now you’re likely familiar with the generic face shield, which is a thin layer of plastic that is basically a flat panel that hangs down from the forehead. These type of face shields may or may not meet OSHA recommendations, particularly if being used with respirators. OSHA has stated that “face shields may also be worn on top of a respirator to prevent bulk contamination of the respirator. Certain respirator designs with forward protrusions (duckbill style) may be difficult to properly wear under a face shield. Ensure that the face shield does not prevent airflow through the respirator." For optimal protection, researchers from the University of Iowa and the Iowa City VA Healthcare System stated, “the shield should extend below the chin anteriorly, to the ears laterally, and there should be no exposed gap between the forehead and the shield’s headpiece.”
This is where smart face shield design can offer benefits. For example, there are shields that can work with respirators and all kinds of cloth masks because it provides extra space in the front. These can also extend where needed—continuously up over the forehead, back to the ears and under the chin. Continuous extension around the face is a unique feature, found in some face shields, that was designed with input from medical professionals—and one that many common face shields do not have.
Face coverings are only effective if they are worn, so comfort is a key factor to ensure all-day compliance without detracting from workers’ abilities to perform their job functions. As such, the best face shields should have a full-range of viewability, be extremely lightweight, and the ability to be customized and adjusted for a personalized fit. Look for face shields that offer these features that can also prevent fogging, which has plagued other styles of face shields (Remember Andy Reid’s at the start of football season?). Some face shields have a “multi-port exhaust” design that allows heat and moisture to be drawn out from inside, while also keeping germs and microbes from entering.
Durability and Manufacturing Quality
OHSA has stated in their guidelines that “when PPE will have to be used repeatedly for a long period of time, a more expensive and durable type of PPE may be less expensive overall than disposable PPE.” When sourcing face shields, note that many brands after just a few uses can become disposable rather quickly, even if they aren’t considered as such – swiftly adding up and becoming costly. Of course, reusable face shields will also need to be easily cleaned and sanitized as well. Therefore, look for quality in manufacturing. At the start of the pandemic, news reports discussed extensive markups and faulty, unusable products that were made overseas, with each country (and state for that matter) scrambling to get their own. Now, approximately a year later, is the time to take another look at how to prepare for not only the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic (however long it may be), but also for moving forward. Consider face shield suppliers that are headquartered in the United States and, more importantly, fully manufactured in the United States to ensure quality and consistency of their product. Also look for a company that can supply the volume needed without significant delays.
OSHA promises to update its guidance “over time to reflect developments in science, best practices, and standards,” but it is evident that face coverings, including face shields where appropriate, will still be standard practice to avoid liability as COVID-19—and other occupational hazards—continue to be a threat to worker safety.