Face masks in the office: 5 steps to help you get your organisation back to work safely

With lockdown restrictions easing, many businesses in the UK and EU are now looking to making their offices safe for employees and visitors to return. If this applies to you, one of the critical areas you will need to consider is asking people to wear face masks that can reduce the risk of infection significantly.

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You can be forgiven for not being sure of your next move is though. Most companies in Europe have never had to consider face masks on a mass (or indeed any) scale before.

So to help make your task easier, here are our top 5 tips for rolling out face masks with a strategy that will help keep your organisation safe and secure.

Step 1: Source the right masks

If you don’t work in the field of professional PPE, it’s easy to assume that one face mask is much like another. This is not the case. For example, there are 3-ply masks that prevent the spread of bacteria by exhalation (i.e. they only protect others, not the wearer). Then are more advanced FFP2 or KN95 masks that provide two-way protection. There are also many other options, including lower-protection washable masks that might be suitable for more sparsely populated areas of your offices.

It’s also important to think about the materials and components that make up your masks. The most effective masks incorporate a material called melt blown that allows you to breathe while reducing the inflow of potentially infectious particles. Not all masks include melt blown though. Check the product section of our website for more information that will help you choose the right mask for your needs.

RESPIRATOR MEDICAL MASK WASHABLE FACE COVERING VISORS
Level of protection High Med-High Med-Low Low
Filtration ≥99% (FFP3)
≥94% (FFP2)
≥98% (Type IIR)
≥95% (Type I)
N/A N/A
Total Layers 5 3 Depends on product 1
Layers of melt blown 2 1 0 N/A
Durability Single Use Single Use Multi Use Multi use and single use available
Splash Resistant No Yes (Type IIR)
No (Type I)
No Yes
Primary use case Workers and civilians in densely populated areas Medical workers and patients. Can also be used to protect workers and civilians in densely populated areas. Civilians in environments with low density of population Workers where risk of exposure is high and constant e.g. shop workers, health professionals
Purpose Intended to protect the wearer Aim to protect others, not the wearer Intended to protect others, not the wearer Designed to protect the wearer

Step 2: Research your supply chain, beware of counterfeiters

One of the biggest problems you will come across when sourcing the number of masks you will need is a lack of supply. The other major problem is that counterfeiters have flooded the market with low-grade counterfeit products that don’t meet standards like FFP2 or KN95 respirators. It’s a good idea to take the time now to research reputable suppliers that can provide (a) the right documentation, and (b) compliant products on a scale that will meet your short and long term needs. This article from the European Safety Federation provides more information on how to spot fake certification for all PPE products.

By February 2020 the Chinese Government said it has already seized over 31m masks destined for global markets.

Step 3: Think about the commute

So you have sourced your masks. You have a plan for employees returning to your sites. You’re now going to have to start thinking about when the masks should be worn and where. Don’t just think about the office though. Many of our corporate customers say they are most worried about employees who are travelling on public transport before they even reach the office. We fully agree with them. To make sure your efforts to ensure safe working in the office don’t go to waste, it’s also advisable to think about how your face mask-wearing policy will need to extend beyond the walls of your buildings.

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Step 4: Implement full guidelines and training

You will also need a policy that covers all aspects of how face masks should be worn in and around the office. Such policies should include:

  • Guidelines on which types of masks employees should wear in particular environments 
    (refer back to Step 1 for the varying levels of protection different masks provide)
  • How to balance face masks with other measures like social distancing
  • Guidelines on how to fit and wear a mask correctly
  • Advice on when it is acceptable to take a mask off 
  • Instructions on how used masks should be disposed of safely

Guidelines should cover all the best practice you need to create a safe working environment

Step 5: Lead by example

One thing we all need to be mindful of as employers is that a lot of people, particularly in the UK and Europe, are not yet culturally attuned to wearing face masks. Many still actively reject the idea. To help overcome this reticence, you will need to communicate your new expectations to staff, provide positive feedback, and also be prepared to address non-compliance should it arise.

Most importantly you will need to lead from the front. Commitment by your senior management is essential for developing a positive hygiene culture – and that will need to include leaders wearing face masks wherever possible. After all, if your managers lead by example, it is much more likely that the rest of the workforce will follow.

For more advice on face masks and how to deploy them in the corporate environment, please contact us at info@shieldwear.co.uk or visit shieldwear.co.uk

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