Fabric face coverings for work – here to stay and what employers need to know
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a rapid and profound impact upon workplace culture. Attitudes to staying safe, preventing infection, managing staff sickness and promoting wellbeing have been upended forever.
While attitudes are changing, the means by which to reinforce them and promote staff confidence in attending work must be implemented by employers.
The future of work will certainly involve a lot of face coverings. We’re seeing a complete transformation in British attitudes to infection control. And we’re witnessing a seismic shift in approaches to being absent from the workplace when poorly, or even presenting with the slightest sign of being ill.
Wearing fabric face coverings for work
The rules on face coverings have changed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic both for wear in public and in the workplace.
There has been confusion about the use of masks to prevent coronavirus transmission. However, it is now widely accepted that cloth face coverings for employees and a fabric face covering for staff are effective in reducing the spread of coronavirus.
While members of the public are required to wear a face covering on public transport, and most indoor spaces, the requirement to do so in many workplaces is not explicitly mandatory.
However, there are certain working environments in which staff must wear a face mask or covering and many employees are positively choosing to wear a face mask when at work. This must be encouraged to promote confidence among staff.
This shift in attitude towards covering our noses and mouths in the workplace will continue to be felt and impact upon employers.
Face masks must become part of the health and safety policy package adopted by UK employers. Organisations who employ staff have a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment.
A fabric or cloth face covering for employees is not considered to be PPE and not entirely covered by legislation. This is because they are intended to protect others more so than the individual. Yet the provision of face coverings does help prevent the transmission of infection, and it will engender confidence in staff and those returning to work as well as reassure staff that their employer is taking their wellbeing seriously.
The new normal of universal face coverings
We know that Asian countries who experienced the SARS outbreak during 2002 – 2004 adopted face coverings early and the use of a cloth face covering for work or a fabric face covering for work is almost now universal.
To presume that in the UK we will return to the previous culture of not wearing face masks once waves of the virus die down is folly. During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, mask wearing was adopted by 85% of Italians and 64% of Americans.
The shift in attitude to sickness in British workplaces
Would you believe that prior to the coronavirus crisis, employees in the UK took half as many sick days than they did in 1993?
This British “stiff upper lip” attitude to essentially forcing ourselves into work when we feel ill had long pervaded workplaces in all sectors in the economy.
COVID-19 has completely tipped that trend on its head. Everyone, everywhere was told early on that should they show any symptoms of coronavirus then they must self-isolate and stay away from work.
Suddenly, it simply isn’t acceptable to attend the workplace when feeling poorly. And that extends to both staff and leaders within organisations.
It’s impossible to foresee a time again in the short to medium term when employees will attend work should they have a cough, sniffle or flu-like symptoms or that managers will expect them to. If they do, or show the slightest sign, then COVID-19 has taught us that a face covering is the minimum expectation.
And we’re rapidly heading towards a time when employers will be expected to provide fabric face cover for staff or cloth face cover for staff because they are both effective and reusable.
How face coverings boost employee wellbeing
Apart from satisfying legal obligations, and abiding by government guidance, providing a fabric face covering for employees or a cloth face covering for staff can make workers feel more comfortable in their daily duties and in returning to work following illness.
It will be a foolhardy employee who neglects their health and safety responsibilities to either expect staff who feel ill to attend work, or encourage their management team to apply even the slightest pressure to do so. And that will extend beyond COVID.
And as an aside, a well made, well designed piece of cloth which covers much of the face of an employee can be branded with a company logo or even personalised to include a staff member’s name. Perhaps the future of staff – customer engagement will be more a greeting with a friendly facemask than a smile which is nowadays covered up.