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Health & Safety: Mask up to keep your guard up this winter


February 9, 2022
By CCOHS

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Let’s face it, wearing a protective non-medical mask is still the norm for many workers, and for good reason. As part of a layered approach with other measures, masks help to prevent the spread of infectious respiratory droplets that lead to COVID-19. But, as temperatures dip during the winter, seasonal inconveniences like rain and snow, runny noses, and wet faces are not only annoying, but can also reduce your mask’s effectiveness.

As new variants continue to spread, proper mask wearing is still a good way to protect yourself and your crew. Use it as an opportunity to provide reminders and encourage workers not to let their guard down this winter.  

Winter mask tips
Whether they’re visiting the warehouse or office, on the road, or working in a public space, crews should be encouraged to wear a non-medical mask when they might interact with people from outside their immediate household. 

When buying a fabric non-medical mask, the materials and design can make a difference in how effective it will be at limiting respiratory droplet spread. Three-layer masks are recommended for stronger protection. If three-layer masks are unavailable, consider layering several single-layer masks instead.

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The mask should fit tightly over the individual’s nose, mouth, and chin. A loose mask with gaps will be less effective. They should make sure that the ear loops or head straps are secure. Being outside in the cold all day might drive workers to wear a winter face covering to keep warm, such as a scarf, balaclava, or ski mask. Keep in mind that these items are not a suitable face covering to protect against COVID-19. Wearing a mask under these face coverings during cold weather will provide better protection.

Be aware of several factors when wearing a mask outdoors. Masks that become wet may be less effective. They may also freeze in cold weather. Make workers aware that having a damp or frozen mask on their skin may cause frostbite. In addition, mask fabrics and ear loops may lose elasticity in sub-zero temperatures. They may be easily damaged when handled. Be prepared for any of these scenarios by stocking extra masks and making your crew aware of where they are kept when they need to replace theirs.

In general, individuals should avoid touching the outside of their mask. If they must touch their mask or face, encourage them to wash or sanitize their hands immediately after. 

Make sure employees know that reusable fabric masks should be washed in hot soapy water and dried between each use, or when they become damp or soiled. Damaged masks are less effective and should be discarded.

A layered approach to safety
Wearing a mask is only one of several ways to protect your crew from COVID-19. No single control measure will be 100 per cent effective on its own. Taking a layered approach provides the strongest protection from COVID-19 in the workplace. This approach combines public health measures with workplace health and safety measures. With each added layer of control, the risk of exposure gets lower.

In addition to following steps we can take as individuals, such as physical distancing and personal hygiene, there are practices that the workplace can do to keep workers safe.

Elimination and substitution: Where possible, offer options such as remote work and virtual meetings for office and support staff not directly involved in on-site operations. Follow public health measures (physical distancing, use of barriers in vehicles or office) when planning work, both indoors and outside.

Engineering controls: Consider adding physical barriers to shared spaces and offering contactless invoicing and payment options for clients. For those indoors, look at ways to improve ventilation.

Administrative policies: Provide clear communication and training, maintain staff cohorts for certain tasks, and amend sick leave policies to reflect the current situation. 

Personal protective equipment: Provide appropriate equipment that meets regulatory standards.

Wearing a mask alone will not prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, masks do help to protect yourself and others when they are well-constructed, well-fitted, and are properly worn, handled, and cared for. 

Don’t let your guard down this winter. Beyond wearing a mask properly, remember to maintain physical distancing, wash your hands frequently, and follow your local public health guidelines.


The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) promotes the total well being of workers in Canada by providing information, training, education, systems and solutions that support health and safety programs and injury and illness prevention.
www.ccohs.ca