Compass HSC, Health and Safety Consultantcy - Social Distance

Use of PPE and face masks at work

Guidance for non-healthcare workers. We discuss what PPE is required and facefit testing.

HSE Statement

The coronavirus outbreak has not changed your duty as an employer to protect people in your workplace from health and safety risks. This includes making sure they are not exposed to hazardous substances as part of their work.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) protects the user against health or safety risks at work. It includes different types of respiratory protective equipment (RPE), such as masks and respirators.

Face coverings are not PPE as they do not protect people from work-related hazardous substances. For this reason, there is no change in your requirement as an employer to supply the relevant PPE for the work to be completed.

Face coverings / Face Masks may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure against coronavirus.

PPE for protection against coronavirus is generally only required for certain healthcare activities. In a non-clinical setting, there is no need to provide different PPE than you would normally have provided before the outbreak started.

If you have problems with the supply of your masks or other RPE, read how to work safely and manage your supplies of RPE.

Using any form of PPE is a last resort after you have assessed the risks. Find out more in our employer’s guidance on your legal duties for providing PPE at work.

Face Coverings

Wearing a face covering is optional in most circumstances and is generally not required in workplaces. They are not an effective way to manage the risks from coronavirus and you should not rely on them.

The evidence suggests that wearing a face-covering does not protect you, but it may protect others if you are infected and have not developed symptoms.

Face coverings are not classed as PPE as they:

  • are not manufactured to a recognised standard and not CE marked
  • do not provide a proven level of protection for work risks such as dust and spray

If people choose to wear face coverings in work you should support them.

You should manage the risk of COVID infection by:

  • social distancing or, where that is not possible, reducing the number of people in the work area
  • assigning and keeping people to shift teams
  • increasing hand and surface washing

You can find specific guidance on working safely during the coronavirus outbreak.


There is more advice on face coverings on GOV.UK.

Surgical face masks

Surgical face masks are designed to be normally worn in medical settings to limit the spread of infection. Wearing them should be very limited outside of healthcare activities because they are not generally considered to be PPE in non-healthcare situations.

Unlike face coverings, they:

  • are manufactured to a recognised standard
  • are resistant to droplets of fluids and splashes

Fit testing basics

Reminder: PPE for protection against coronavirus is generally only required in healthcare settings.

Where respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is used, it must be able to provide adequate protection for individual wearers. RPE can’t protect the wearer if it leaks. A major cause of leaks is poor fit – tight-fitting facepieces need to fit the wearer’s face to be effective.

As people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes it is unlikely that one particular type or size of RPE facepiece will fit everyone. Fit testing will ensure that the equipment selected is suitable for the wearer.

To ensure you put on tight-fitting RPE correctly, use a mirror or ask a colleague. Fit-testers should follow government advice on social distancing, as they can make observations from this distance and deliver any instructions verbally.

The user should then carry out a pre-use seal check or fit check. The following poster offers guidance on how to put on disposable respirators and how to do a pre-use seal check or fit check.

Using Disposable Respirators – Poster from HSC

Relevant Links

Get in contact

Compass HSC is a leading Lancashire based health and safety consultancy and we are ready to help. If you need any further clarity on PPE requirements,  or another matter relating to Safety and COVID-19, get in contact with the team.

Our team of health and safety consultants are available to discuss any concerns you may have. Contact us via email at or call us on 01253 735 755 or use the links below.

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Further information

For more specific guidance for your industry or sector visit:

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Contact Compass HSC

A Leading Lancashire based Health & Safety Consultancy

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37 Madison Heights,
Coopers Row,
Cypress Point,
Lytham St Annes,