Have to ask for a face mask? Tips for defusing potentially tense situations for worker safety

"In Colorado, there's no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service," said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis when announcing the state's recent face mask order, designed to decrease coronavirus transmission.

Most people will comply with the mandate for health and safety reasons, in order to combat Colorado's coronavirus cases. In fact, a July poll found that 95% of adults reported wearing a face mask in a public space over the past month, a sharp increase from the half who said so in April.

But what if your employees encounter people not wearing masks in the course of their work, especially as the heat rises?

Here are three common scenarios where worker safety might be at risk, plus some tips to give your team for working safely and avoiding triggering a workers' comp claim.

In someone's house

Visiting someone's house can be disconcerting, as you don't know the extent of that person's commitment to hygiene and social distancing. Whether you're there to fix a leaky pipe or act as a caregiver, you could be risking your health if your client isn’t doing his or her part to prioritize worker safety.

Here is how to establish safe protocols when dealing with a client in his or her own home:

  • Try to avert the problem by corresponding via text, email or phone before the appointment. Seek as much detail about the project as you can remotely so you lessen face-to-face interaction, but also use that communication as a chance to confirm your company's adherence to best practices for mitigating coronavirus transmission. For example, assure your client that you will be wearing a face mask and request that he or she does so, as well.

On a commercial job site

There have been a number of outbreaks of coronavirus on Colorado construction sites, and in at least one incident, it is believed inconsistent mask wearing caused the spread among workers. "They were working in an enclosed space, and we all get complacent," said Carrie Godes, a public health specialist at Garfield County Public Health, in an article in the Colorado Sun. "It's a good takeaway lesson for all of us in our work environment." 

Here are some tips for approaching mask wearing at a job site:

  • As the supervisor, communicate frequently about the importance of mask wearing and other preventive measures. These reminders can hold more weight when coming from the top, thereby promoting a safety culture and avoiding workers' comp claims.
  • Remember that other workers might have just forgotten to cover their faces. If you encounter someone who isn't following proper protocol to stem coronavirus transmission, ask him or her in a non-confrontational, friendly manner to put on a mask.

In your own retail store, restaurant or office

We've all seen the videos and heard the stories of customers’ outright refusals to wear a mask, and sometimes even threatening employees who ask them to comply. There's never a reason to sacrifice your safety and some customers may even have a medical exemption, but commonsense appeals should work with most visitors.

Here are some tips for encouraging visitors to wear masks:

  • Provide visual cues that you expect customers to wear masks. For example, post signs on the front door and make sure all employees are wearing masks.
  • Position a greeter at the door to help direct visitors and pleasantly remind them to don a mask. Thank them for complying and emphasize that everyone wearing a mask will help keep establishments open for all.
  • Offer non-medical masks for customers who don't bring one. 
  • Call 3-1-1 if you need additional help. 

Need more help fostering a COVID-19-related safety culture?

Visit Pinnacol's blog for the latest tips on how to keep your employees healthy to avoid Colorado workers' comp claims.

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