Are Face Coverings Personal Protective Equipment?


Are Face Coverings Personal Protective Equipment


In the context of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, a face covering is something which safely covers the nose and mouth. You can buy reusable or single-use face coverings. You may also use a scarf, bandana, religious garment or hand-made cloth covering but these must securely fit round the side of the face.

Face coverings are not classified as PPE (personal protective equipment) which is used in a limited number of settings to protect wearers against hazards and risks, such as surgical masks or respirators used in medical and industrial settings.

Face coverings are instead largely intended to protect others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection because they cover the nose and mouth, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission of virus that causes coronavirus infection (COVID-19).

The risk of COVID infection at work must be managed by following the right controls, including:

  • Social distancing or, where that is not possible, reducing the number of people in the work area
  • High standards of hand hygiene
  • Increasing surface washing
  • Assigning and keeping people to shift teams or using screens and barriers to separate people from each other

These are the best ways of managing risk in the workplace. If your workers choose to wear face coverings you should support them. There are some circumstances when wearing a face covering is required as a precautionary measure.

Face coverings are not classed as personal protective equipment (PPE) as they:

  • Are generally not manufactured to a recognised standard, not CE marked and do not provide a proven level of protection for work risks such as dust and spray.

Surgical face masks

Surgical face masks are designed to be normally worn in medical settings to limit the spread of infection. Wearing them should be very limited outside of healthcare activities because they
are not generally considered to be PPE in non-healthcare situations.

Unlike face coverings, they:

  • Are manufactured to a recognised standard and are resistant to droplets of fluids and splashes

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