Last reviewed 22 September 2020

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has updated its advice on face coverings as a precautionary measure against Covid-19, emphasising that these are not to be regarded as personal protective equipment (PPE) and do not protect against dusts or sprays at work.

The health and safety watchdog has pointed out the differences between various types of face masks and face coverings, noting that in the context of the coronavirus, face coverings are mainly intended to protect others and not the wearer.

The risk of Covid-19 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 disinfecting

  • assigning and keeping people to shift teams

  • using screens and barriers to separate people from each other.

The HSE also emphasised that face coverings — which may be homemade and frequently made from cotton or other fabrics — are not classed as personal protective equipment (PPE) as they are generally not manufactured to a recognised standard and not CE marked. They do not provide a proven level of protection for work risks such as dust and spray.

The term PPE is a wider term, including different types of respiratory protective equipment (RPE), such as respirators but also products such as safety gloves, safety boots and construction helmets for example.

PPE therefore includes different types of respiratory protective equipment (RPE), such as respirators and breathing apparatus.

Face coverings are not classified as PPE as they do not protect people from work-related hazardous substances such as dangerous dusts and sprays.

Surgical face masks are designed to be normally worn in medical settings to limit the spread of infection.

The new HSE advice adds that wearing surgical face masks should be “very limited outside of healthcare activities” because they are not generally considered to be PPE in non-healthcare situations.