Face Coverings in Labs FAQs

Am I required to wear a face covering in lab?

Per order of Governor Baker, face coverings are required when a distance of at least 6 feet cannot be maintained between yourself and others for any length of time. That means that if there is a possibility that you may come within 6 feet of others in the lab, you and your coworkers must wear face coverings unless you are exempt from the requirement because of a medical condition. See the University’s FAQs on Face Coverings for additional information.

Can I wear a face shield instead of a face covering?

No. The Governor’s order requires a mask or cloth face covering. Face shields can be worn in addition to face coverings if desired or necessary to protect from splashes. Face shields are also a good option for individuals who are not medically capable of wearing a face covering as face shields would still block some large droplet transmission from the wearer.

I work with a lot of flammable materials, pyrophoric compounds, or open flames. What kind of a face covering is safe for me to wear in the lab?

When working with open flames, pyrophorics, larger quantities of flammable materials, or other fire hazards, wear face coverings made of natural fabrics (e.g., cotton). Synthetic fabrics can melt to your skin, or in some cases burn very rapidly, in the event of a fire.

Do principal investigators (PIs)/lab supervisors have to provide face coverings for lab personnel?

No. The Governor’s mandate does not require employers to provide face coverings as these are required for all public activities (including those that are not work related) where maintaining social distancing is not possible. Face coverings are also not considered personal protective equipment (PPE), so there is no requirement for PIs/supervisors or the University to provide these. Wearing a face covering in the lab is analogous to wearing closed-toed shoes, pants or other appropriate clothing, or restraining long hair before you come to the lab. It is the responsibility of lab personnel to come to the lab with appropriate attire. PIs/supervisors or departments may provide face coverings if they wish to. Please see the University’s FAQs on Face Coverings for additional information.

Can I wear a face covering instead of a respirator?

Respirators afford protection to the wearer from respiratory exposure to hazardous airborne materials.  Face masks and coverings help to reduce the airborne transmission of droplets and aerosols by the wearer to others. Please see the EH&S guidance on the difference between respirators and face coverings for additional information. Please also note that use of respirators in the lab may require enrollment in the EH&S Respiratory Protection Program. Please contact the program for any questions or to determine if a respirator is required for specific activities: respirators@umass.edu