OSHA won’t enforce state mask mandate


Wisconsin OSHA officials met with members of the ABC of Wisconsin Safety Committee Wednesday in a quarterly alliance meeting and discussed how they are continuing to conduct enforcement operations in spite of the pandemic. Several OSHA representatives were part of the meeting and indicated no citations have been issued in Wisconsin during the pandemic, but inspections are taking place.

“We are conducting enforcement operations. We are getting out there,” said Rob Bonack, OSHA Appleton Office Director. “If we get reports of fall hazards or trenches, we are responding to those,” he said.

Compliance officers are being very cautious and asking questions when they visit jobsites, however. The OSHA representatives say contractors should be prepared for some screening-type questions about any confirmed cases of COVID-19 to avoid coming in contact with any “hot spot.” Bonack said it works both ways, though, with compliance officers taking precautions to keep workers from being exposed to visitors who may be carrying the virus.

“If we think that one of our people may have been exposed, we’re going to keep them at home. We’re not going to send them out until we know they are clear.”

Significant time in the meeting was spent on Wisconsin’s public health emergency that mandates the statewide use of face masks for all residents age 5 and older when they are indoors or in an enclosed space – other than a private residence – with anyone outside their household or living unit. OSHA representatives contend OSHA is not in the business of enforcing the state mandate, but reminds contractors that their actions should not be dictated by a statewide mandate.

“Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe and healthful work place for employees,” said Bonack. “Right now, we’re going through a pandemic and so, you know, we have that health hazard out there,” he said. “We would expect employers to have some type of pandemic plan in place. Whether or not we have a pandemic, every employer should have some semblance of some kind of plan,” he added.

The OSHA representatives said their staffs are going to look more at the CDC guidance and what the employer had in place at the time of the event.

“We are going on the CDC and OSHA interim guidance,” said Mary Bauer, OSHA compliance assistance specialist in Eau Claire. “We would not be using the Wisconsin order, other than as backup information and if there’s information that should have or could have been followed,” she said.

Bonack referenced a video that is circulating that mentions false information about oxygen deficiency when wearing masks, which has prompted many calls to OSHA offices.

“We’re trying to get the word out to say that this rhetoric on social media is untrue,” Bonack said. “If you can’t maintain social distancing, you should be wearing face covering of some kind.”

The rhetoric is causing aggressive behavior.

“There are a lot of people on the edge. And we’ve had fatalities, where the security person told the customer to wear a mask and it came back with a gun and shot him dead,” Bauer said. “Do the best you can, but don’t … but don’t create a workplace violence situation over whether they put the mask over their nose or just put it over their mouth.”

The representatives remind ABC members that OSHA has good COVID-19 resources for the construction industry at this location.


ABC of Wisconsin has developed a series of questions and answers to help contractors navigate through this statewide mandate:

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