Face Masks at Work – What You Need to Know

Wednesday September 8, 2021

As the pandemic continues to impact lives across Australia, we’re all becoming increasingly used to wearing a face mask.

However, wearing a mask at work throws up a few questions. Is it compulsory? Should the employer supply the masks?

Of course, mask-wearing requirements change from State to State and day to day. While we can’t offer you a definitive guide, we can try and navigate the rules and regulations, depending on your State’s current COVID restrictions and regulations. It’s important that you keep up-to-date with the recommendations and directions and ensure that these are followed at your workplace.

The Australian Government Department of Health has published information on when masks should be worn in the community in Australia and general COVID-19 information on face masks and who should use them.

So, let’s say your State is currently under COVID restrictions, with compulsory mask-wearing. Where does that leave you as an employer of workers who are still coming into work each day?

The short answer is – your employees need to wear a mask. Employers must take all reasonable steps to ensure that their employees wear a fitted face mask when at work, in accordance with occupational health and safety laws.

Employees must be aware that their employers cannot force them to wear a mask if they have a medical condition preventing them from doing so. Accordingly, if an employee is dismissed in such circumstances, they may be entitled to bring a claim in the Fair Work Commission.

Here’s what else you need to know about masks at work:

  • As an employer, you must provide appropriate training and instruction on how to put on, wear, remove and dispose of the mask.
  • As well as masks, it is also important to encourage good hand hygiene and physical distancing of 1.5m between workers.
  • Single-use surgical masks or properly constructed cloth masks may be used.
  • Masks need to be replaced frequently and stored correctly, in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Ensure that appropriate facilities are provided, including hand-washing facilities and a closed bin to dispose of used masks.

Importantly, talk to your employees. Let them know what measures are in place to protect them and their colleagues, and why you’re enforcing them. Encourage correct usage and additional precautionary measures. Work as a team to combat COVID-19.

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