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Department of Labor and Industry
Safety and Health Codes Board
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3/19/22  8:58 pm
Commenter: Mark Fraser, PhD, Aerosol Scientist and OSHA Safety Officer

16VAC25-220 should be Revoked because the PPE are Ineffective and Can Cause Long Term Health Issues

Executive Summary: The requirement for employees to wear face coverings at work under 16VAC25-220 (“the Standard”) should be revoked because the available cloth and surgical masks are known to be ineffective in preventing the transmission of germs and viruses, including SARS-CoV-2.  Furthermore, prolonged use may lead to numerous health problems arising from oxygen deprivation, exposure to elevated CO2 levels, and respiratory infections.

My Background: I have a Ph.D. in Physical and Analytical Chemistry with over 40 years of R&D experience developing sensor technologies for hazardous chemicals, biologicals, and explosives. Three of my patents (U.S. patents 6034768, 8137466 B2, and 8252088 B2) address airborne threats including aerosols.  I have also been trained as an OSHA Safety Officer under CFR 1910.1450 and formed an Emergency Response Team equipped with sensing technologies, cleanup procedures, and Personal Protective Equipment (Level A Hazmat suits and SCBA respirators).

Discussion: The Standard, subsection 40(G), specifies the mandated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): “employees shall wear a face covering or surgical mask that covers the nose and mouth to contain the wearer's respiratory droplets and help protect others and potentially themselves.” This selection of PPE was unfortunate because these types of masks bear no certification of effectiveness against germs and viruses and, in fact, were known to be ineffective against these pathogens at the beginning of the COVID outbreak.1 The inadequacy of the specified PPE is compounded by the fact that these types of masks cannot filter aerosols (micron-sized microdroplets that can remain buoyant in air, increasing transmission distances for tens of meters indoors).  Aerosols have been identified as a key transmission mechanism2 for COVID-19.  Finally, the specified PPE were provided to employees without any training in donning, proper fitting, or safe disposal, contrary to established OSHA best practices.3  It is well-known that proper training is essential to maximizing PPE effectiveness and that improper use poses substantial risk of exposure.

Sufficient data have been acquired to allow the performance of Mask Mandates to be assessed.  The unmistakable conclusion is that COVID infections were driven largely by seasonal and endemic factors, whereas Mask Mandates had no discernable impact on infections here in the U.S.4 Thus, the following can now be stated regarding the effectiveness of 16VAC25-220: The mandated PPE in the Standard failed to protect employees; This failure is intrinsic to the specified PPE such that it could not provide the desired protection; and, Finally, that the PPE vulnerabilities should have been known and understood at the start of the Pandemic.  Language in the Standard suggests that Respirators, such as N95, were also a considered option (they do provide superior, quantifiable protection when worn properly) but they were not available for most employees because of supply limitations.

The Standard has also contributed to the Public misconception that indoor environments are safe if everyone is masked, even if the masks are inadequate on an individual basis. This is scientifically false, contrary to OSHA best practices, and unfortunately has not been refuted by Public Officials.  Consideration of two simple cases proves this fact: If you enter a contaminated environment, your ineffective PPE means that you will be exposed.  For the second case, if you enter an initially uncontaminated environment that has just a single transmissive source, the inadequacy of their PPE quickly contaminates that environment leading inevitably to your own eventual exposure there as well.  An interdependent network of substandard PPE does not make an environment safer, instead, it maximizes Risk ensuring that everyone can be exposed.

The Standard also failed to address the possibility of short and long-term health issues raised by prolonged use of PPE.  These issues include: difficulty in breathing, skin rashes, and CO2 intoxication.Also, cloth masks are known to put workers at increased risk of respiratory illness and viral infections.5  Finally, the virus can remain infectious for several days on mask surfaces, raising the possibility of self-contamination when the mask is handled or removed with bare hands.

Conclusions: Considering the PPE specified under the Standard provided little or no protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and long-term use presents health risks to employees, the Standard should be revoked.

1. Xiao, J. et al., “Nonpharmaceutical Measures for Pandemic Influenza in Nonhealthcare Settings - Personal Protective and Environmental Measures,” Emerging Infectious Diseases, 26(5), 2020
2. Morawska, L. and Milton, D. K., “It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19),” Clinical Infectious Diseases, 71, 2020
3. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Laboratory Safety Guidance, accessed on 19 March 2020 from
4. "Are Face Masks Effective: The Evidence," Accessed on 19 March 2020 from Swiss Policy Research (
5. University of New South Wales. (2015, April 22). Cloth masks: Dangerous to your health?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 19, 2022 from

CommentID: 120823