Personal protective equipment (PPE)

PPE should only be needed if it is not possible to control the risk of transmission through other means. Priority should always be given to maintaining social distancing.

For example, PPE should only be needed where the nature of the task dictates that two metres’ separation cannot be maintained and there are no alternative ways of carrying out the task while maintaining two metres’ separation.

In these circumstances, fluid resistant surgical facemasks should be used as a minimum. These are also known as type IR or type IIR facemasks, which indicates they are fluid resistant and have been certified to European standard EN 14683:2005.

Respiratory protective equipment that provides a higher level of protection, such as disposable half mask respirators classed as either FFP2 or FFP3, would also be suitable. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has more advice on FFP2 and 3 facemasks.

If the employer introduces masks, they must also introduce other control measures outlined in elsewhere in this guidance wherever possible.

It is possible that there will be shortages of PPE. Reps should seek the agreement of their employer that if PPE is not available for tasks that require it, the task should not be carried out until the PPE has been secured.

It is important that people using PPE should be trained in its use, including how to put it on and take it off safely. FFP3 facemasks and other tight-fitting respirators rely on having a good seal with the wearer’s face, otherwise they could leak air. A face-fit test should therefore be carried out to ensure the mask can protect the wearer. See the HSE’s guidance on face-fit testing.

The PPE must also be compatible with any other PPE that people are wearing, and must be compatible and comfortable for people who use glasses. Some types of surgical facemask come with anti-fog features that allow them to be worn with eyewear.

Beware that if the PPE causes the user discomfort, it may encourage people to touch their faces, which can help coronavirus to spread.

This page is designed to give general information about health and safety on returning to work. It does not cover all circumstances and should not be treated as a definitive answer. Members should contact Prospect either through the Member Contact Centre on 0300 600 1878 or contact their union rep or full-time officer for specific advice.