Face Coverings At Work
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has provided detailed guidance for specific workplace settings. Employers are required to ensure that a risk assessment is prepared for their business which considers the risks arising from COVID-19 and then addresses these through control measures.
COVID-19 must be managed through a hierarchy or system of control, which includes working from home where it is possible to do so, 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.
The Government asserts that these measures remain the best ways of managing risk in these settings, but what is the position in respect of the use of masks in the workplace? The Government guidance states that “there are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial and a precautionary measure”. However, this is identified as a measure that will largely be to protect others and not the wearer. Normal policies relating to occupational workwear and PPE will continue to apply in this regard.
Staff in indoor settings
Face coverings must be worn by retail, leisure and hospitality staff working in any indoor area that is open to the public and where they are likely to come into contact with a member of the public. This includes (*when allowed to operate): shops*, supermarkets, bars*, pub*s, restaurants*, cafes*, banks, estate agents, post offices, and public areas of hotels and hostels*.
The Government’s guidance notes that if these businesses have taken steps in line with the Health and Safety Executive guidance for COVID-19 secure workplaces to create a physical barrier between workers and members of the public then staff behind the barrier will not be required to wear a face covering.
In outdoor areas, employers are obliged to consider the use of face coverings on a case-by-case basis depending on the workplace environment, other appropriate mitigations that they have put in place, and whether exemptions or reasonable excuses apply.
It is not clear at present whether the existing measures are sufficient to keep the new, more transmissible, variants of COVID-19 under control. Evidence suggests not and that additional measures may be required in certain settings. The number of outbreaks in offices may necessitate a review of risk assessments and control measures to keep workplaces secure. It is entirely possible that the use of masks will become the norm in such settings and entirely possible that the Government guidance is changed at some future point as the country seeks to get control of the virus and its transmission.
If your organisation is contacted by the local authority or HSE in respect of its COVID security measures or by PHE in the event of an outbreak, our Regulatory Partner, James Lowe is able to assist. He is available on 07833 240 400 for a free telephone consultation.