Wearing a face covering on site has been a standard control measure in the fight against Covid-19 since January 2021. The Construction Leadership Council’s Site Operating Procedures clearly stated when to wear a mask on a Construction Site.
Current UK Guidance is to wear a face covering when:
- In an enclosed space
- Where social distancing of two metres isn’t always possible
- Where people come into contact with people they do not usually meet
Face Coverings not Face Shields
The issue with face shields is that they do not cover the nose and mouth. This poses a danger to both the wearer ie they can breath in aerosols containing the virus and they can also breathe them out, placing others at risk.
The fact that the medical profession are using face shields is not relevant to health and safety at work, or indeed, in everyday life. The medical profession are using face shields in addition to face coverings to ensure Covid-19 containing aerosols, ie breath, does not enter their body via the eyes.
Face Coverings or Face Masks
A face covering is something that is covering your nose and mouth and it can be made of any material. The surgical type masks people are wearing are made of a plastic coated paper, which isn’t great if you are into the environment, but they can be disposed of and any traces of the virus with it.
The majority of everyday people are wearing cotton face masks or snoods, like a neckwarmer. These should be at least two layers of material thick and regularly washed.
A face mask is something I would refer to as a piece of Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE. It has a Face Fitted Protection rating (FFP) and offers the wearer protection against known hazards, such as wood dust and could even have filters attached in the case of working with fumes. A face mask is a part of the employers control measures to protect the individual at work. A face covering is an unregulated piece of clothing which cannot be considered as PPE for protection against workplace hazards.
Exemptions from wearing Face Coverings
If a person has a health issue which prevents them wearing a face covering, you must ask if they should be at work or should they be shielding? If the individual can’t wear a covering because of the possibility of their breathing being impaired then catching Covid-19 would have a serious impact upon them. To wear a face covering and a face shield all day long is no guarantee that an individual will not catch the virus.
Distance First, Handwash Second, Coverings Third
Like any workplace hazard, there is a hierarchy of control ie. Control measures that work better than others. For example, an extractor attached to a mechanical saw is better than the joiner wearing a filtered face mask. Applied to Covid, Keeping a Distance is preferable, supported by handwashing, so the virus is not left on surfaces with face coverings coming in third where distance cannot be maintained.
Face Coverings When Working in Enclosed Spaces
In general on a construction site, ventilation is good and air change is frequent. For those working outdoors and two-metres away from others the risk of contracting the virus is low. When the workplace becomes enclosed, ie the build progresses, the air change is not as frequent. The requirement for wearing masks in site offices and canteens is vital due to the size of that particular workplace. Although 2 metres maybe maintained, it only takes one careless move and the site could rapidly become contaminated. It is important to keep site offices covid secure.