Staff working in places where the public is obliged to wear face coverings should also have to wear them, says the British Medical Association.
Customers in England are now required to wear face coverings in shops, banks, takeaways and indoor transport terminals unless they are exempt. While staff are not currently obliged to follow the rules, the BMA says they should also apply to workers to help prevent the spread of the infection, unless there are additional mitigations such as the use of barriers or screens between individuals.
The BMA says in the absence of a Government mandate, employers should protect their staff and customers by requiring both to wear face coverings.
The BMA believes that face coverings should be worn in all settings where physical distancing between people from different “bubbles” is not possible and no other mitigating measures are put in place.
The Association is also concerned that some staff are wearing visors instead of masks, which are likely to offer much less protection against transmission from the wearer to others, and should only be worn in addition to face coverings for the purpose of protecting the wearer’s eyes. The BMA has produced an infographic explaining what types of face covering are appropriate1.
Dr Peter English, BMA public health medicine committee chair, said:
“The virus does not discriminate between customers and staff, so to have one rule for one group, and a different for another, is entirely illogical. Shop staff, for example, are likely to encounter many different people during their shift, and without other mitigating measures – for example cashiers sitting behind individual plastic screens – they too should be wearing effective face coverings.
“Customers being asked to wear face coverings will rightly question why staff are not required to do the same, and so businesses should lead by example, and honour their duty of care to both their employees and the public.
“The BMA has consistently raised the problem of mixed messages around face coverings and this is just another example of confusing Government policy.
“These rules should clearly be extended to apply to staff, and in the meantime, employers should do the decent thing and ensure those employees who are unable to keep two metres from one another or customers are wearing face coverings.”
Notes to editors
The BMA believes:
- For the general public a cotton mask, covering the nose, mouth and chin, is suitable. This can then be washed and reused. Ideally these should be three layers thick and of tightly woven fabric.
- Masks with exhalation valves should not be used, as they allow potentially infected air to be channelled out through the valve and are thus less effective.
- Visors are likely to offer much less protection against viral transmission from the wearer to others and should not be worn in place of an effective face covering.
- People who are clinically extremely vulnerable should consider wearing a fluid-resistant surgical mask, as these are likely to offer greater protection to the wearer.
- The public should not wear medical grade respirators – these should be reserved for frontline healthcare workers.