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COVID-19 How to wear and fit a face mask safely

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This article is a brief overview of how and why the general public should wear facemasks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  This article is not for use by employers issuing Personal Protective Equipment for use in the workplace.Face mask

The situation with face masks for the general public

Let’s face it; the entire situation around face masks has been confusing.  At first, the advice was not to wear them as they weren’t useful but now it is a legal requirement from the 15th June 2020, for anyone using public transport to wear one.  The school of thought is that the purpose of wearing a face-covering in public will protect others around you more than it will protect you.  Should you have COVID-19, then a face mask will reduce the likelihood of you infecting other people.

Remember- you can spread COVID-19 if you are asymptomatic, i.e. you have the virus but don’t have symptoms.

The legal requirement for wearing a face mask

The UK government has advised people travelling on public transport:  this includes buses, trains, ferries and aircraft.   There is a maximum fine of £100.00 for people not wearing masks, and also refused to use the mode of public transport.  Only some people with certain health conditions are exempt from the requirement.  However, the advice for vulnerable people is to wear face masks when out in public at all times.

What type of face mask do I need? 

Face masks for the general public doing activities such as shopping or commuting can be a homemade mask such as a bandana or scarf.  Also, there is a range of face covers available online.  The masks do not have to be certified to a medical standard or have a British standard rating.  It is a different matter if your employer is issuing it to you as Personal Protective Equipment for use at work.

Ideally, a mask with a form of certification such as CE marking or British Standards would be far more effective. But with high demand in the UK for PPE and frontline workers being a priority these categories of the mask are in short supply, homemade face-covering has been deemed a safe option by the UK government.

How face masks can cause a risk and what to do about it.

Here is a list of considerations when wearing a face mask.

  • Should the material become contaminated with COVID-19, your mouth is next to the contaminated surface for a longer period which increases your chance of contracting the illness.

Solution– Change your mask regularly and wash it frequently.

Solution– do not touch the mask unless you have washed your hands immediately before.

Solution- if you get an itch underneath the mask, try and ignore it.

Solution- Take your mask off immediately when you leave public transport and store in a plastic bag.  Wash your hands after touching the face cover.

SolutionKeep a spare mask on you and change it immediately if it gets damp or wet.

  • People are not putting the face masks on correctly, and this results in there being spaces around the wearer’s mouth.  There is a video link to the BBC included in this post on how to wear a mask.BBC- how to wear a mask

Solution– Consider buying a face mask that you can fit properly instead of using a bandana or scarf.

  • The masks give a false sense of security, and people forget to keep at 2 metres from other people, or they reduce the amount of handwashing.

Solution– Remember to wash your hands and keep social distancing, personal protective equipment is always the last resort, and the hygiene and distancing measures are far more effective for the prevention of catching COVID-19.

The future of face masks

At the time of writing this article, rumours were circulating in the media that it would be compulsory for people to wear face masks in shops when they opened.  Whether this will extend to other businesses is unclear.  Scientists are now supporting the idea that COVID-19 will only be controlled and hopefully eliminated by the use of face masks and social distancing measures.

If that means we can go back to a new normality, then I’m in.

We are a health and safety consultancy that provides advice to businesses.  If you would like further advice then please get in touch with us.

Contact US

Liz O’Brien is the director of Terra Firma 360, and has been providing health and safety advice since 2004.

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