From: Ralph Froehlich <rfroehlich**At_Symbol_Here**HELIXENV.COM>
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] [EXTERNAL] [DCHAS-L] Wearing cloth mask in the lab
Date: Wed, 6 May 2020 18:08:50 -0400
Reply-To: ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**PRINCETON.EDU>
Message-ID: 0B93160A-2A25-46EB-B669-766CF4F0926D**At_Symbol_Here**
In-Reply-To <129857208.1668108.1588800458887**At_Symbol_Here**>

Please CONSIDER the potential health effects of the use of cloth face masks. I have learned of one incident where a worker in the waste management arena was REQUIRED to use a cloth face mask provided by the employer in order to work at a facility. When the worker later collapsed and hit his head on a piece of equipment which required stitches, the employer's safety representative questioned whether the accident was recordable according to OSHA (It is.). During the investigation, the worker reported that his physician had told him that he was "borderline" for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and that he reported that he continued to smoke cigarettes. DId the restriction of his breathing result in his collapse? Without medical approval, any required respiratory protective equipment could be an OSHA violation and could be the reason for his collapse. In addition, since the cloth face masks were manufactured using unapproved materials at a home sewing shop, the employer and manufacturer may be liable for health effects.

I personally witnessed another worker suffering breathing difficulties after two hours using a cloth face mask purchased on line. She removed the face mask and spent time lying on the floor until she felt good enough to return to work without the face mask. Face mask use, like air-purifying respirator use, places an additional restriction on the respiratory system which can precipitate other health effects in individuals with pre-existing health conditions, like fainting, fatigue or heart attacks. Without medical approvals, we may never know who should avoid the use of face masks.

Ralph A. Froehlich, CIH, CSP, QEP
Helix Environmental, Inc. 
(937) 226-0650 office

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On May 6, 2020, at 5:27 PM, Yamaira Gonzalez <000003a8c5269e98-dmarc-request**At_Symbol_Here**LISTS.PRINCETON.EDU> wrote:

Thank you all for your responses.  Indeed,  I'm interested in your thoughts for the use of cloth masks in "lab spaces".  I appreciate everyone's feedback.  Adding to the list below, is the consideration of which fabric to use, which someone mentioned earlier (cotton vs. polyester or flame retardant,...). And glad to see there is a vendor selling FR masks.  

Best Regards,  

Yamaira I. Gonzalez, Ph.D.
Lab Safety Coordinator
University of Delaware
Newark, DE 19716

On Wednesday, May 6, 2020, 01:45:03 PM EDT, Stuart, Ralph <ralph.stuart**At_Symbol_Here**> wrote:

> >It would be helpful if AIHA or ACS could release a statement on the use of cloth masks in laboratories.

The problem I see with this relates to most of the issues you mention: the definition of "laboratories" is so broad that developing a statement beyond the broad advice that CDC produces is a significant challenge. Even within a chemistry department, organic labs, analytic labs and teaching labs present three very different risk scenarios and people are likely to be moving seamlessly among them. I've had enough experience with trying to develop a glove usage policy for a diverse lab setting to wonder if we'll get much further with masks. This is particularly true since, as you point out, the purpose of cloth masks is unclear, both to safety professionals and the public.

There is also the down side of cloth masks as with any PPE, to consider:
1. fogging of eyewear, whether prescription or safety
2. developing and maintaining an awareness of the importance of proper fit
3. interference with verbal clear communication with labmates
4. identifying appropriate decontamination and reuse protocols for the masks after use (someone compared a used mask to a used diaper, without the color indicator to indicate a contamination problem)

Thanks for helping us to think through this challenge.

- Ralph

Ralph Stuart, CIH, CCHO
Environmental Safety Manager
Keene State College
603 358-2859


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