What has changed following the governments 19th July 2021 announcement?


On the 19th of July 2021 the Government announced that “legal requirements to wear a face covering has been lifted in all settings”. The settings the Government refers to do not appear to include the workplace.  It refers to indoor settings and gives a list of examples, see – Face coverings: when to wear one, exemptions, and how to make your own – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)


However, some employers are still confused as to what a face covering is? A cloth covering made up of at least 2 layers that forms a good fit around the face that protects others, or a proprietary face mask (respirator)? You decide. A face mask (respirator) protects the wearer from external hazards including dusts, aerosols, and airborne particles. Does a face covering achieve that?  Many businesses appear to be allowing their staff to wear face coverings at work but is this correct, or even legal?


All Employers must complete suitable and sufficient Risk Assessments of all significant hazards within the workplace as identified within The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, and The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999. COVID 19 is identified as an infectious disease and therefore a significant hazard that requires the correct controls measures and if deemed appropriate via risk assessment, respiratory protection to the standard FFP2, or preferably FFP3.


Remember! PPE should only be issued as the last line of defence when identified within a risk assessment where residual risk exists.


Government Guidance on PPE (Regulatory status of equipment being used to help prevent coronavirus (Covid-19)Personal protective equipment (PPE) identifies products that the user can wear to help protect against the risk of Covid-19 at work.


Given that face coverings are mainly intended to protect others and not the wearer, surely they cannot be classified as PPE as they have not been independently tested to the required standards for the workplace. In addition, surgical face masks are designed to be worn in medical settings to limit the spread of infection. These again are not classed as PPE when used outside of healthcare settings, see – Face coverings and face masks during the coronavirus pandemic – HSE.


The legal responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 makes employers ensure they provide a safe place of work for their employees and visitors. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations Reg 3 requires employers to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the Risks to Health and Safety of their employees.


Covid 19 is not going away in the short to medium term and the risk to employees becoming infected with Covid 19 still needs to be assessed.  If control measures identified from a risk assessment included the wearing of the correct respiratory protection, then the approved standard of face mask/respirator must be provided by the employer.


The coronavirus pandemic has not changed the duty of an employer to protect people in the workplace from the associated risks to health and safety. This was true before, during and will be after the pandemic subsides.


Question – So, what has changed following the Governments 19th July 2021 announcement and the requirement of employers to meet the applicable Health & Safety Law Standards in the Workplace?


Answer – Nothing!


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