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Face coverings and face masks at work during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

Face coverings

Face coverings are mainly intended to protect others and not the wearer. When used correctly, they cover the nose and mouth, which are the main sources of transmitting coronavirus (COVID-19).

The risk of COVID infection at work must be managed by following the right controls, including:

  • social distancing or, where that is not possible, reducing the number of people in the work area
  • high standards of hand hygiene
  • increasing surface washing
  • assigning and keeping people to shift teams
  • using screens and barriers to separate people from each other

These are the best ways of managing risk in the workplace. You can find specific guidance on working safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

There are some circumstances when wearing a face covering is required as a precautionary measure. You can find out when workers need to wear a face covering on GOV.UK.

Face coverings are not classed as personal protective equipment (PPE) because:

  • there is currently no need to conform to a manufacturing standard
  • they do not provide protection for work risks such as dust and spray
Canvas face covering
Example of a face covering

Find out more

There is more advice on face coverings on GOV.UK. This includes guidance on:

  • when and where you must wear them and enforcement measures
  • how to wear them correctly
  • different arrangements in England, Scotland and Wales

The use of face coverings as a public health protection measure in England falls under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) Regulations 2020.  

Separate regulations and guidance apply for public use of face coverings in Scotland and in Wales.

Surgical face masks

Surgical face masks are designed to be worn in medical settings to limit the spread of infection. They are not considered to be PPE when worn outside of healthcare activities.

Unlike face coverings, they:

  • are manufactured to a recognised standard
  • are resistant to droplets of fluids and splashes
Surgical mask
Example of a surgical face mask

This page is reviewed regularly and updated to reflect any changes in the guidance.

Page last reviewed: 28 May 2021

Next review due: 30 June 2021