Since the COVID-19 outbreak, face coverings (commonly referred to as face masks) have become a common requirement, even mandatory in some situations. Available in both reusable or single uses, a face covering is a piece of equipment which safely covers the nose and mouth and must securely fit around the side of the face.
Face coverings are not classified as personal protective equipment (PPE) as they are generally not manufactured to a recognised standard such as EN149, nor are they CE Marked. They do not provide a proven level of protection for workplace risks such as dust or spray.
Face coverings are instead largely intended to protect others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection as they cover the mouth and nose, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission of the virus that causes coronavirus (COVID-19).
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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:
When wearing a face covering you should:
When removing a face covering:
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.
There are also scenarios when you are permitted to remove a face covering when asked:
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.