Following the latest advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which states non-medical face coverings should be worn in public where social distancing is not possible, face masks for infection control have become an increasingly regular sight in supermarkets, on public transport and in the workplace.
But with guidelines from the UK government not advising employers to enforce the wearing of face masks among employees, it has left many in a quandary with regards to staff welfare and wider social responsibility.
At present, in most workplaces, it remains the decision of individual employees if they wish to wear a face mask. But will customers and staff be comfortable with this arrangement and do face coverings even help protect from COVID-19 infection?
Will wearing face masks at work become the norm?
The most recent UK government guidelines on how businesses can become “COVID-secure” do not currently advise employees to wear face coverings in the workplace. They do, however, encourage employers to support any employees who wish to do so.
While it may not currently be a legal requirement in many settings – and sometimes maybe not even practical – employers should continue to follow government advice in case of a change in guidelines or legislation, especially in the event of a second wave.
As more people return to work, start using public transport again and more shops, restaurants, bars and hairdressers begin to reopen, an increasing number of people may begin to voluntarily wear face masks. As this becomes more commonplace, wearing face masks at work may also become more common, even for those in low-risk environments.
Through disposable and reusable face masks, infection control can be practised, even if only to a very small extent.
Will wearing a face mask at work protect me/my employees?
The recent guidelines published by the UK government state that there are more effective means of infection control and that face-coverings are simply “marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure”.
Generally, it is widely accepted that face coverings can help protect others if the wearer is an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19.
So, that’s not to say that face masks, face shields and general face coverings are not helpful, but they should by no means be the only method of protection within a workplace.
Social distancing measures should be implemented clearly, whether through every other desk being closed, one-way systems put in place in staircases, or alternate toilet cubicles being closed, for example. Hand sanitiser and disinfectant sprays should also be readily available for staff and customers, along with reminders to regularly wash hands.
Does an employer have a social responsibility to enforce the wearing of reusable face masks?