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News & Events / COVID-19 – The difference between Face Masks (PPE) and Face Coverings

Face Masks

Where you are already using personal protective equipment (PPE) in your work activity to protect against risks such as ingredient dust and other hazardous substances, you should continue to do so.

When managing the risk of COVID-19, additional PPE beyond what you usually wear is not beneficial. This is because COVID-19 is a different type of risk to the risks you normally face in a workplace, and needs to be managed through social distancing, hygiene and fixed teams or partnering, not through the use of PPE. The exception is clinical settings such as hospitals and healthcare.

It is important that workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against COVID-19. Unless you are in a situation where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is very high but unlikely in our industry. If your risk assessment does show that PPE is required, then you must provide this PPE free of charge to workers who need it. Any PPE provided must fit properly and face fit testing provided to the employee.

Supplies of PPE face masks must continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace, such as those in industrial settings like those exposed to dust hazards and health and care workers. The public are being strongly urged not to purchase surgical masks or respirators.


Face coverings

There are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure. The evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you, but it may protect others if you are infected but have not developed symptoms.

A face covering can be very simple and may be worn in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible. It just needs to cover your mouth and nose. It is not the same as a face mask, such as the masks and respirators used for hazardous substances in health & safety and surgical masks used in healthcare. Similarly, face coverings are not the same as the PPE used to manage risks like dust and spray in an industrial context.

It is important to know that the evidence of the benefit of using a face covering to protect others is weak and the effect is likely to be small, therefore face coverings are not a replacement for the other ways of managing risk, including minimising time spent in contact, using fixed teams and partnering for close-up work, and increasing hand and surface washing. These other measures remain the best ways of managing risk in the workplace and government would therefore not expect to see employers relying on face coverings as risk management for the purpose of their health and safety assessments.

Wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace. If you choose to wear one, it is important to use face coverings properly and wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off.

Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one.

This means telling workers:

Read the guidance on how to wear and make a cloth face covering.