CORONAVIRUS - 14.09.2020

Should staff wear a mask at work?

With the number of coronavirus cases on the rise again, the issue of wearing face coverings at work is becoming more topical. What health and safety obligations do you have towards your employees and can you force them to wear face coverings?

No legal requirement. With some exceptions, the requirement to wear a face covering doesn’t extend to employees. This is because of your existing legal obligation to provide a safe working environment for staff, and to comply with that obligation in England you should follow the government’s COVID-19 Secure guidance (separate guidance is available for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). There are 14 different guides available covering a range of different types of workplace. Some of those guides state that staff should be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) in relation to particular types of work such as in clinical settings or where it’s difficult to maintain social distancing, e.g. because employees need to work in very close proximity to their clients. Otherwise, where you are managing social distancing guidelines (two metres, or one metre with risk mitigation where two metres isn’t viable), additional PPE beyond what you usually wear isn’t beneficial and the guidance is clear that you shouldn’t encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against coronavirus. So, unless you’re in a situation where the risk of coronavirus transmission is very high, your risk assessment should reflect the fact that the role of PPE in providing additional protection is limited. That said, if any employees want to choose to wear a non-PPE face covering at work, you should support them to do so.

Risk assessment. If your risk assessment does show that face masks and/or other forms of PPE are required to protect employees, or they’re mandatory in your particular type of workplace, you must provide it free of charge and then train employees in how to use it and monitor them to ensure appropriate use.

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