Coronavirus in the Workplace

#NoHelmetsAtWork

By Elizabeth Torphy-Donzella - Shawe Rosenthal LLP

October 14, 2020

We have officially entered the age in which we don’t just live in social bubbles.  We now are encasing ourselves in actual bubbles with special air to breathe and real time ongoing attention to our personal body temperature.

There are Face Shields that continuously take the wearer’s temperature, intended to support a safe return to work!  The maker assures us that the flexible headband makes the unit comfortable and, at only $20, affordable.

And what about a personal helmet with a built-in HEPA filter (currently available in black, but soon to be offered in white) to keep you safely (and fashionably) on the go, whether hopping an UBER to get to the socially distanced meeting or jetting off to Croatia (one of the few EU countries to allow U.S. visitors)? The fans that circulate air inside the helmet do, according to the manufacturer, slightly impair hearing and they are working on a portal for a straw so you can drink something. Yours for a cool $199 (once the production delays have resolved).

Or you can get a bigger helmet (and available for shipping now) for more greenbacks, as this New York Times article describes. However, the author of the NYT article warns that the helmets don’t actually provide the protection that they advertise because they are not fit tested to keep out unfiltered air.

So, what if employees wish to purchase air filtering helmets to wear at work for their own benefit?  Even though not mandated by the employer or required by the nature of the work, if permitted to be worn to work, OSHA will impose requirements.  According to an OSHA video on voluntary use of respiratory gear,

Before you can voluntarily use a respirator, your employer must ensure that its use does not present a health hazard to you. To do this, your employer must implement certain elements of a written respiratory protection program necessary to ensure that any worker using a respirator voluntarily is medically able to use that respirator. In addition, your employer must ensure that the respirator is properly cleaned, stored and maintained so that its use does not present a health hazard to you.


OSHA confirmed in a recent post-COVID update that these rules continue to apply, and they are not an “easy lift.” The employer must also provide Appendix D of OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard to employees who voluntarily wear such helmets.

In light of this, I would not suggest these helmets be allowed in the workplace. But do continue to support the use of masks and social distancing.  OSHA and the CDC say so!

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