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Face Coverings Expert Advice

Here at Cromwell, we have a fully qualified Technical Safety Team who are passionate about keeping people safe. The team have over 180 years of combined safety expertise so can support those who make, manufacture and build the world around us. We provide the tools and equipment to do it all safely.

We are recognised for providing sound technical advice and intelligent safety solutions based on fully understanding your needs. We can undertake site surveys, looking at what you are currently using, and making suggestions for improvements in efficiency and offer toolbox talks to educate in the correct use of PPE.

We are impartial, giving you access to all the major manufacturers as well as exclusive brands, ensuring we offer you the best solution for your situation. We can arrange, monitor, and evaluate product trials and support in standardising and rationalising product ranges. Our dedicated Safety Team will give you advanced protection ensuring you are compliant and up to date with the latest technology.

Expert Guides

We've created a series of Expert Guides, sharing our key expertise and knowledge around Face Coverings.

Please view and download them below:

Download our FREE Face Coverings poster

Ask our Safety Experts

If you can't find exactly what you're looking for within our range of face covering products, expert guides, poster and FAQs, then please get in touch with our fully qualified Technical Safety Team at safetyexperts@cromwell.co.uk to find the right solution for you.

Face Coverings FAQs

In the context of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, a face covering is something which safely covers the nose and mouth. You can buy reusable or single-use face coverings. Face coverings are largely intended to protect others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection because they cover the nose and mouth, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission of virus that causes coronavirus infection (COVID-19).

Coronavirus (COVID-19) can spread predominantly by droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking. These droplets can also be picked up from surfaces, if you touch a surface and then your face without washing your hands first. This is why social distancing, regular hand hygiene, and covering coughs and sneezes is so important in controlling the spread of the virus. The best available scientific evidence is that, when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances, helping to protect others.

A face covering should:

  • Cover your nose and mouth while allowing you to breathe comfortably
  • Fit comfortably but securely against the side of the face
  • Be secured to the head with ties or ear loops
  • Be made of a material that you find to be comfortable and breathable, such as cotton
  • Ideally include at least two layers of fabric (The World Health Organisation recommends three depending on the fabric used)
  • Unless disposable, it should be able to be washed with other items of laundry according to fabric washing instructions and dried without causing the face covering to be damaged

When wearing a face covering you should:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on
  • Avoid wearing on your neck or forehead
  • Avoid touching the part of the face covering in contact with your mouth and nose, as it could be contaminated with the virus
  • Change the face covering if it becomes damp or if you’ve touched it

When removing a face covering:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before removing
  • Only handle the straps, ties or clips
  • Do not share with someone else to use
  • If single-use, dispose of it carefully in a residual waste bin and do not recycle
  • If reusable, wash it in line with manufacturer’s instructions at the highest temperature appropriate for the fabric
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser once removed

Different regulations exist for wearing face coverings in different parts of the UK about which you can find out more on devolved government websites.

In England, you must by law wear a face covering in the following settings:

You are also strongly encouraged to wear a face covering in other enclosed public spaces where social distancing may be difficult and where you come into contact with people you do not normally meet.

In settings where face coverings are mandated in England, there are some circumstances, for health, age or equality reasons, whereby people are not expected to wear face coverings in these settings. Please be mindful and respectful of such circumstances noting that some people are less able to wear face coverings.

It is not compulsory for shop or supermarket staff to wear face coverings, although employers should consider recommending their use where appropriate and where other mitigations are not in place. For example, there will be times when screens or visors are in use, or when a staff member is not in close proximity to people they do not normally meet, and so wearing a covering for staff will not be necessary. Employers should continue to follow COVID-19 secure guidelines to reduce the proximity and duration of contact between employees.

You do not need to wear a face covering if you have a legitimate reason not to.

This includes:

  • Young children under the age of 11
  • Not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
  • If putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
  • If you are travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • To avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others
  • To avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and you do not have a face covering with you
  • To eat or drink, but only if you need to
  • To take medication
  • If a police officer or other official requests you remove your face covering

There are also scenarios when you are permitted to remove a face covering when asked:

  • If asked to do so by shop staff for the purpose of age identification
  • If speaking with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound. Some may ask you, either verbally or in writing, to remove a covering to help with communication

For exemptions in different parts of the UK please refer to the specific guidance for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

There is no universal face coverings guidance for workplaces because of the variety of work environments in different industries. Employers must make sure that the risk assessment for their business addresses the risks of COVID-19 using BEIS guidance to inform decisions and control measures including close proximity working.

As a general rule, it is important to note that coronavirus (COVID-19) is a different type of risk to the risks normally faced in a workplace and needs to be managed through a hierarchy or system of control including social distancing, high standards of hand hygiene, increased surface cleaning, fixed teams or partnering, and other measures such as using screens or barriers to separate people from each other.

These measures remain the best ways of managing risk in the workplace, but there are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial and a precautionary measure; this will largely be to protect others and not the wearer. If employees choose to wear a face covering, normal policies relating to occupational workwear and PPE will continue to apply.

Do not touch the front of the face covering, or the part of the face covering that has been in contact with your mouth and nose.

Once removed, store reusable face coverings in a plastic bag until you have an opportunity to wash them. If the face covering is single use, dispose of it in a residual waste bin. Do not put them in a recycling bin.

Make sure you clean any surfaces the face covering has touched using normal household cleaning products. If eating in a restaurant, for example, it is important that you do not place the face covering on the table.

Wash your face covering regularly and follow the washing instructions for the fabric. You can use your normal detergent. You can wash and dry it with other laundry. You must throw away your face covering if it is damaged.

Surgical Masks FAQs

No, whilst surgical masks may, in principle, offer adequate protection against large droplets and contact transmission, the level of protection they offer against a residual aerosol risk is poorly understood. They are not designed, or certified, as respiratory protective devices and are not classed as personal protective equipment (PPE).

Surgical masks are tested against their bacterial filtration efficiency. When exhaling, a surgical mask filters a percentage of the bacteria within that breath dependant on its type. They are not tested for inhalation so do not operate as a respiratory device and are not tested or certified as such.

Wearing a face mask while out and about on busy public transport, in shops and other crowded places, could help protect people from respiratory infections like Covid-19.

The study conclusions are that people who wore masks, usually surgical grade, were less likely to get respiratory symptoms from casual exposure in the community.

Something like a sneeze or cough near you would become less likely to cause infection. Its only a small reduction in risk for healthy people, but might be important to vulnerable people, who might benefit more from this protection. Therefore, people need to be vigilant about all their habits, and not rely solely on face masks.

Wearing masks at home has seemed to reduce the odds of well housemates becoming ill. The risk reduction was greatest, at 19%, if everyone in the home, whether ill or well, wore masks. The protective effect is not large within a home setting because people have lots of repeated types of contact, so there are many ways for the germs to transmit.

It can be hard to wear masks correctly for many days at home as they interfere with activities such as sleeping, eating, and brushing teeth. Masks need to be disposed of correctly in order to avoid picking up an infection from the mask itself.

The correct way to use a face mask depends on the design of the mask and the kinds of activities the wearer takes part in. Each mask comes with its own instructions on usage.

A very general rule would be to assume that a mask is no longer protective after wearing it for three hours. Wearers should wash their hands before they put on a mask, and more importantly, after they take it off and dispose of it.

In laboratory experiments or when health professionals wear them, yes.

When households and the community wore inexpensive respirators, the respirators were only about as protective as an ordinary surgical mask. This can be due to the fact that wearing a respirator correctly is harder than wearing a surgical mask correctly.

There is little to no advantage to wearing a respirator if it has not been correctly fitted to the wearers face.

Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE) FAQs

RPE or Respiratory Protection Equipment is designed to stop the wearer breathing in harmful substances in the air.

There are two categories:

Tight fitting - (also known as negative pressure)

This is RPE that relies on a tight seal being achieved with the face. All tight fitting RPE must be fit tested before use. Examples of tight fitting are FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 disposable masks, half, or full-face respirators.

Loose fitting - (also known as positive pressure)

This is RPE that does not rely on a tight seal. Contaminated air is drawn in by a powered unit and through a filter. The air is then fed over the wearers face allowing them to breathe normally within the hood.

No, to be classed as RPE masks must have gone through testing and meet relevant standards.

In any situation where you are exposed to harmful airborne substances, for example:

  • Welding
  • Cutting wood, concrete or stone
  • Dealing with chemicals or chemical spills
  • Handling dusty products like flour

There are many situations where RPE may be required. If you are unsure, seek professional help.

Some can, some are designed to be single use. Generally speaking, ‘dust masks’ are disposable and are designed to be discarded after use. Half and full powered face masks are reusable as the filters can be discarded, allowing the rest of the apparatus to be reused.

Fit testing is a physical test to ensure the RPE worn fits correctly. Negative pressure RPE relies on a tight seal around the nose and mouth to provide protection. Everyone wearing tight fitting RPE must be fit tested.

Not every type of RPE is suitable for every person due to different sizes and builds.

No, the fit test is specific to the product you have been tested with. If you change your tight fitting RPE you will need to be tested again. Significant changes to face shape such as weight loss, dental work etc. will necessitate face fit testing again to ensure continued compliance.

No, loose fitting RPE does not need to be fit tested as it relies on a flow of air rather than a tight seal to keep contaminants out.

FFP stands for Filtering Face Piece and the number relates to how efficient it is at trapping particles. Therefore, a FFP3 mask will trap smaller particles than a FFP1 mask, thereby giving greater protection. The EN 149 standard is a European standard available to show that the masks protect against dust, mist, or fibres.

No, it will only protect against particles, if your hazard is a vapour or gas you will need different protection. If you are unsure, seek professional help.

In a pre-COVID world, more Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) was available either valved or un-valved. The majority of RPE currently available, during this pandemic, is now un-valved, in order to reduce the likelihood of the transmission of the virus.

The addition of a valve on RPE has been to provide additional comfort to the wearer. The valve is an exhalation valve, so releases the moisture within the mask, into the environment, when breathing out, to increase the wearer comfort.

Having a valve doesn’t change the protection level of RPE, a valved P3 mask offers the same particulate protection as an un-valved P3 mask.

However, in light of the current pandemic, where we are trying to prevent the transmission of the virus, you would need to refer to your COVID-19 risk assessment to determine whether valved RPE is suitable, and the safest option, for your workplace environment, as COVID Illnesses from workplace exposure are RIDDOR reportable.

With the implementation of face coverings/masks being mandatory in many areas, some face coverings/masks, are now also including valves. Again, this is for comfort, which can be understood as coverings can be hot and uncomfortable. However, is this the safest option?

Again, the valve increases comfort by releasing the moisture from our breath to outside the covering/mask. The exact reason we are encouraged to wear face coverings is to limit the transmission of the virus, from person to person, so you would need to ask yourself, is having a valve on a face covering the safest thing to wear?

Visors FAQs

Following recent Government guidelines customer facing people, shop workers, Hairdressers/Barbers, Hospitality workers etc.

Visors should be worn in conjunction with a face covering to protect the wearer, and the ‘customer’ from droplets expelled when talking, sneezing, or coughing.

COVID-19 protection ‘type’ visors are not for industrial use and should be only used in the specified areas.

Industrial visors are specifically tested to stringent European standards and are impact rated for their specific use.

COVID-19 ‘type’ visors do not meet these standards, but the materials need to have passed NHS assurance with the materials used.

Industrial visors however can be used for COVID-19 protection.

Yes, visors tend to be reusable. Ensure you follow the process by washing and thoroughly disinfecting then before reuse.