As the country prepares to begin a phased return to work, I am seeing a lot of questions arise around the use of face masks and respiratory protective equipment in particular, so I thought I would write a quick primer on how to use a face mask and when it might be useful.
When Should I Use a Mask?
Masks can be uncomfortable and compliance can be an issue – workers often skip wearing a mask or forget to pick one up, and sometimes may think that wearing a mask is, in and of itself, enough to protect them, even if they wear it incorrectly. In general, PPE should be the last line of defence against a hazard, not the first.
Current government guidance is that a face covering should be worn in enclosed spaces, where social distancing is not possible – that is, if all other measures are not possible, then wear a face covering. Evidence is that a face covering does not protect you, but may help protect others with whom you come into close contact in the event that you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms. The government also makes clear that it sees a distinction between face coverings and surgical masks or respirators, which may provide a higher level of protection, but should be reserved for those who really need them in a healthcare setting or for those exposed to dust or chemical hazards at work due to shortage problems at the moment.
Face masks can protect you from coronavirus in some situations.
They are only useful if used correctly.
They are currently a scarce resource, and should only be used as a last resort, where all other avenues to prevent risk are not practical.
If using a face mask, take care to make sure the fit is snug, but comfortable.
Replace the face mask regularly, and dispose of it if it becomes sweaty, or dirty, or if you have any issues with the seal on your face.
Do not touch the face mask while it is on your face, and take extra care when putting on and taking off your face mask. – the WHO gives guidelines here: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks
As always, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to discuss these aspects further. The HSE has good guidance on routing use of respirators, and specific guidance on use for healthcare workers, and the WHO has a series of videos to support the use of masks by the public. Links below: