Reopening PPE │Do I have to provide face masks to staff?

Noel Collins - Health and Safety Team Leader

May 26 2020

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With each new phase of the Government’s Roadmap for Reopening, Irish businesses get one step closer to returning to the workplace and some form of normality.

Whether you’ve already reopened or you’re waiting for your phase, your “normal” may look a whole lot different. That’s because you’ll have to implement new return to work protocols and practices such as physical distancing, frequent cleaning and, if necessary, the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

One new aspect of PPE businesses may have to adopt is the use of face masks. While the Government does recommend wearing one on public transport, in shops and other enclosed places with people, it’s not a mandatory workplace measure.

Still, is the use of face masks a measure you could implement in your workplace? Let’s find out.

Face masks in the workplace

The use of face masks in the workplace is not a mandatory measure. However, it’s important to assess your own workspace in line with measures set out in the Return to Work Safely Protocol. For instance, your employees may work closely together or share a small space from time to time, such as a meeting room. If you’re unable to adhere to physical distancing rules and separate your employees accordingly, the use of face masks may be necessary.

Other preventative measures

The use of face masks isn’t the only preventative measure to think of implementing in the workplace. The Return to Work Safely Protocol does state that physical distancing and good hand/respiratory hygiene will also help in reducing the person-to-person transmission of COVID-19. The measures below are the most important ones to take to reduce the risk of infection.

Hand hygiene

When you reopen, you’ll need to provide appropriate facilities to allow employees to practice proper hand hygiene. You’ll need to instruct employees on how to effectively wash their hands and display posters in appropriate areas to remind employees of the practice.

Respiratory hygiene

You’ll need to provide employees with tissues and bins to dispose of used tissues in. These should also be emptied regularly. Instruction on good respiratory etiquette must be provided to all employees.

Physical distancing

Physical distancing could be the greatest challenge you face. For instance, handshakes are forbidden. If office work is essential for your business, it must comply with the two-metre physical distancing requirement.

If you’re unable to put a two-metre separation between employees, physical barriers may need to be put in place. It would also be wise to hold meetings remotely and stagger shifts to comply with physical distancing requirements.

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