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Do you have to wear face masks in the workplace in the UK?

Off to work? Don’t forget your face mask!

Both face coverings and hand sanitiser have joined the list of items that you now can’t leave the house without due to Covid-19. Face coverings have especially become a common sight in high streets and supermarkets over the past year, and they have well and truly cemented themselves into our daily routines. In September 2020 the government guidance on face coverings changed, and mandatory mask wearing was required by law in certain indoor environments; including UK workplaces. 

If you run a business or company, you might be wondering whether your employees have to wear face masks in the workplace. As lockdown restrictions ease, and staff members begin to return to work, the rules surrounding face masks can be very confusing. What do you need to know about enforcing face masks and the guidelines that come with them?

In the blog below, we’ll explain everything you need to know about keeping your office environment safe, as well as looking at whether office workers have to wear face masks or not. 

What is a face covering?

Most people have a good understanding of why they need to wear a face mask to stop the spread of Covid-19, but do we actually know what a good face covering is? 

On paper, it’s something which is used to safely cover both the nose and mouth. Face masks are mostly used to protect others from the virus, not the actual wearer. Because the wearer’s nose and mouth are covered, the main sources of transmission are cut off by the mask’s protective layers.

There are many different types of face masks available, so it can be difficult to know which one to pick. The government states that: 

‘cloth face coverings and disposable face coverings work best if they are made with multiple layers and form a good fit around the face.’ 

Other types, such as bandanas, scarves or religious garments are less effective if they don’t securely fit around your face.

If you’re required to hand out personal protective equipment to your staff, it’s work remembering that face coverings are not technically classed as PPE. This is because PPE is used in medical or industrial settings to protect workers from the virus with surgical masks or respirators.  

What are the rules on face coverings in the UK?

The rules on face masks have changed many times since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, and also differ depending where in the UK your office is based. The current rules contain both government guidance, as well as some legal requirements, and currently include the following:

  • Retail, supermarkets and shopping centres: Face masks are mandatory for both shoppers and employees in all parts of the UK.
  • Public transport: Face coverings are mandatory for travellers in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, transport workers are not required by law to wear masks whilst they’re working. But it’s recommended that they do in instances where social distancing is difficult to enforce.
  • Airplanes: In England, Scotland and Wales, face masks are mandatory for all passengers boarding the aircraft. In Northern Ireland, they are just recommended. Most cabin crew are also required to wear face coverings at work.
  • Indoor public spaces: Face coverings are mandatory for most indoor public settings across the UK. In England, Scotland and Wales, you’re required to wear a face mask in multiple different places, such as restaurants, cafes, museums, libraries and even takeaways. In Scotland and Wales, you’re also required to wear one in the gym. In Northern Ireland, the rules aren’t as strict, as you don’t have to wear a mask in a business that can maintain social distancing; such as a hairdressers or cinema.

Face masks in the workplace

As an employer, if you’re planning a safe return to the office there are many health and safety issues you need to consider. You have an existing legal obligation to provide a safe working environment, and in order to comply, you should follow all the coronavirus workplace settings guidance provided by the government.

Coronavirus is classed as a hazard in the workplace and should be managed in the same way as other workplace hazards. You need to carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment to identify all the control measures needed to manage that risk.

When to wear a face covering in the office

You should encourage social distancing, high standards of hand hygiene, increased surface cleaning and fixed teams as the best ways to manage Covid-19 in the workplace. Face masks are not necessarily required, but if you’re looking to keep your office environment safe, they should definitely be considered. If social distancing is hard to maintain, then it’s strongly advised that you provide face masks and/or PPE for your office workers.

If your staff work in retail, leisure or another hospitality setting, then they are required by law to wear a face mask. That includes not just shops, restaurants and bars, but also other customer-facing businesses like banks and estate agents

Are there any exemptions?

There are some people that are exempt from wearing a face mask in the workplace, including:

  1. People who suffer from a physical or mental illness, impairment or disability, who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering.
  1. People speaking to or assisting someone who relies on lip-reading or facial expressions to communicate.
  1. Where the putting on, wearing or removing of a face covering will cause a person severe distress.

The UK government states that no employee should be forced to obtain and provide a medical note as evidence for this exemption. As an employer, you must approach this based on trust and not force an exempt employee to wear a face covering.

Covering the cost of face masks and PPE

If you require your office staff to wear face masks at work, then you should provide them with these for free. It isn’t a legal requirement, but it is the best practice. If you’re looking for face masks and PPE for your employees, you need to make sure you find some that offer suitable protection and meet the recommended mask guidelines. 

At Mask4Life, we offer a wide range of standard and premium reusable face coverings for businesses. Our face masks are double layered and reusable, as well as being fully washable. There’s no extra cost of purchasing disposable masks and, as a result there’s a 100% reduction in waste. Not only does this save your business money, but it also helps to stop used masks ending up in the ocean or landfill sites!

Find out how much you could save by switching to our reusable face masks, using our online calculator. If you’re interested in purchasing face masks for your offices or workplace, get in touch today!