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Coronavirus: Masks in the workplace FAQs

31 July 2020

Update: Members are advised to rely on the most recent news stories and Bulletins only, as government advice and regulations will continue to change as the COVID-19 situation develops. The advice below was correct at the time of publication. The latest COVID-19 news is available here.

The VACC OHS&E Unit has put together some FAQs for workplaces, following the announcement of mandatory face covering in Victoria.

Whilst there are some exemptions, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has confirmed that the requirement includes workplaces, even if physical distancing of 1.5 metres is possible.

In addition to the FAQs below, VACC has designed 'face cover' posters for members to display on their premises.

What types of face covering can be used in the workplace?
The advice from the DHHS states that a person must use a “face covering”. This a broad term and can include other items such as a face shield, bandana or scarf.

It should be noted however, that WorkSafe have recommended a cloth mask or single-use disposable mask for use in the workplace.

The key benefits of using a well-fitted face mask are firstly, that they are the most effective means of reducing airborne droplets; and secondly, they can be worn relatively easily by majority of the workforce, without impairing their ability to perform their job. For example, using a scarf as a face covering potentially creates the risk of entanglement when working on a vehicle, as it is not fitted as closely and securely to the face. It is important that the introduction of any new controls in the workplace includes consultation with employees and that it is documented.

Do I need to supply my employees with a face mask?
WorkSafe Victoria guidance on face coverings states:

The Chief Health Officer has directed that employers must take reasonable steps to ensure that employees wear a face covering at all times when working at the employer’s premises.

Where the work or task requires the use of specific types of face coverings in the workplace, these must be provided by the employer. Where an employee seeks to provide and use their own face covering at work, an employer must ensure that it is meeting its obligations under the OHS Act which includes, so far as is reasonably practicable, providing and maintaining a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes undertaking a risk assessment, ensuring that the face covering is safe and suitable for the workplace and work activities being performed, providing policies and procedures in relation to the use of face coverings in the workplace and that the employee or independent contractor has received information, instruction and training in the safe use of face masks within the workplace.’

It is important for members to note that the face covering an employee will be wearing when arriving for work under the Stage 3 restrictions, will be appropriate to cover most tasks within the automotive workplace. In such instances, it is recommended that members have a supply of disposable / single-use face masks available for employees to use, if their face covering gets damaged, soiled or wet and cannot be used.

However, if the employee’s own face covering is not safe and suitable for the particular type of workplace activity of your business, such as a scarf, and the employee is therefore required to wear a specific type of mask, then the employer should be providing that mask.

What if my employee has a medical condition and can’t wear a covering?
The requirement to wear a face covering does not apply to people with breathing difficulties or a physical condition that makes it difficult to wear one. Face shields may be easier to wear for some individuals who have limited ability to wear a face mask or other face covering. If face shields are used, ensure they are properly designed to cover the sides of the face and below the chin. Reusable face shields should be cleaned and disinfected after each use. Disposable face shields should only be worn for single use.

It is recommended that anyone unable to wear a face covering due to a medical condition seeks written advice from their doctor which exempts them from this requirement. The medical advice should be carried on their person or readily accessible at all times and a copy provided to their employer.

Do I need to wear a face covering if I work in an office on my own?
If you work in an enclosed office on your own, you don’t have to wear a face covering while at your desk. If someone enters your space and when you leave it, you need to wear a face covering.

Should I provide my employees with training on how to wear a face covering safely?
Yes. In order for face coverings to be effective in the workplace it must be worn properly. Employers have a duty under the OHS Act 2004 to provide adequate information, instruction, training and supervision to their employees. The DHHS website has helpful and simple information on correct use of face masks, alternatively refer to the World Health Organisation for online training videos

Can I take off my face covering if I find it uncomfortable whilst working?
It is important you wear your face covering when at work, but some people may require short breaks from wearing their face covering, particularly when performing strenuous work. When you do so, ensure you are not near other people, and follow the correct process when removing your covering. Only a short break should be required.

What should I do if my employee refuses to wear a face covering?
It is now a legal requirement to wear a face covering while outside the home unless an exemption applies. The individual as well as the employer can be issued hefty fines for non-compliance with this directive, without a valid reason.

In addition to the directive from the DHHS, it should be noted that an employee has a general obligation to follow the directions of their employer, provided that such direction is lawful, reasonable and safe. In addition, both employers and employees hold a duty of care under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.

It is therefore recommended that an employer discusses with the employee to gain an initial understanding as to why they don’t believe they should wear a face mask / covering, and then seek further advice from the VACC IR Department on your specific circumstances.

What if my employee is doing a delivery or transporting a customer?
The employee and any other person travelling in a vehicle for work purposes (i.e. as part of their work role) must be wearing a face mask / covering at all times. Please note this risk control must be done in conjunction with other higher level controls such as providing hand sanitiser in the vehicle, maintain physical distancing in the vehicle as far as is reasonably practicable, open windows for increased ventilation etc…

For more information, please refer to previous VACC Bulletin with a sample Safe Work Method Statement on transporting customers safely.

Does my employee need to wear a face covering whilst driving in their own vehicle?
If you are driving alone or only travelling with people from your household, you do not need to wear a face covering. You should put your face covering on before you leave your vehicle or if you wind down the window to talk to someone.

If you are driving with people for work or people you don’t live with then you must wear a face covering unless you have a lawful excuse.

Does VACC have any posters on face coverings I could display in my workplace?
VACC has developed some posters that members can use in their workplace as a practical way to visually remind all staff, customers and visitors to the premises, that a face covering must be worn whilst on site (unless the individual has a valid exemption).

Can I refuse entry to customers not wearing a face covering?
Yes. You can ask a customer not to enter your premises if they are not wearing a face covering, unless they have a lawful reason not to wear one.  It is the responsibility of the individual entering your premises to do the right thing and wear a face covering.

A business owner will not be fined if a customer refuses to wear a face covering; as it is not the business owner’s responsibility to enforce the face covering rules on their customers.  The penalty would be applied to the individual (unless they have a valid exemption).  If a customer refuse to comply with a reasonable request or becomes aggressive, it is important to avoid escalating the situation further and refer the matter to Victoria Police.

Will a face mask protect me from COVID-19?
Even with the additional physical barrier of a face mask/face covering, the most effective means of protecting against the COVID-19 virus is by strictly adhering to the following:

  • Washing your hands regularly
  • Avoiding touching your face, eyes, mouth and nose
  • Maintain a distance of 1.5m from people (household members excluded)
  • Coughing and sneezing in your elbow or a tissue (disposing of the tissue immediately and sanitising / washing hands afterwards)
  • Regular cleaning of high touch areas such as door handles, kitchens areas, toilets etc…

 

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For more information
Department of Health and Human Services: How to make a cloth mask
WorkSafe Victoria: Face coverings in workplaces

VACC OHSE Unit
P: 03 9829 1265
E: ohs@vacc.com.au

VACC Industrial Relations Department
P: 03 9829 1123
E: ir@vacc.com.au

 

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