TUC – Face Coverings in the Workplace Guide:
This new updated TUC guide explains why face coverings are used, the difference between face coverings and masks, what the recommended standards are and what union reps can do to support members.
The guide covers the different types of face coverings, reusable, single-use, styles and materials.
The guide points out the purpose and value of face coverings/masks designed to protect those around us, and protect the wearer.
Face coverings are a legal requirement to wear while travelling on public transport and in most indoor public spaces.
The guide covers the mandatory face covering requirements for some workers, exemptions and regulatory differences in Scotland, where face coverings are also mandatory in specific other work settings.
Police enforcement is included in the guide.
Importantly the guide stresses the important fact that face coverings help reduce the spread of coronavirus, but are not a replacement for other measures such as 2-metre social distancing, regular hand-washing, effective ventilation systems, cleaning and self-isolation when necessary which are still considered as more effective control measures.
Face coverings and face masks differences are explained in the guide as are the different filtering levels and standards.
Many people are choosing to wear a face covering at work, whether or not one is required.
In August 2020, the government U-turned to allow for schools to require staff to wear a face covering if they felt it necessary. More and more employers are now requiring workers to use face coverings at work.
The guide states that if an employer requires workers to wear face coverings at work, these should be provided to the workforce free of charge and workers should be given an adequate supply.
With regard to standards, the guide points out the government’s advice that face coverings should “ideally include at least two layers of fabric”. The World Health Organisation Standards recommends a face covering has three layers and explains the materials and fabrics used.
There is advice for union reps on the minimum specification face covering that employers should provide.
The guide covers situations where workers are required to use face coverings for long periods and that working hours should reflect the discomfort and fatigue issues associated with this and that employers should build in breaks to allow workers the option of time away from the workplace without a face covering.
Disposing of face coverings is referred to in the guide.
Exemptions are referred to in the guide covering people who are exempt from the wearing of face coverings, including workers who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability and people speaking to or assisting someone who relies on lip-reading, clear sound or facial expressions to communicate.
Government advice states that nobody should be made to obtain a medical note as evidence for their exemption. Employers should approach this based on trust, and not force anyone with an exemption to wear a face covering.
It concludes that union reps will wish to seek assurances from management that no member is penalised or otherwise discriminated against based on exemption.
National Health, Safety & Environment Officer