Managing coronavirus (COVID-19) risks: Face masks in workplaces

Information about using face masks in workplaces to reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19).

Restrictions apply in metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria

Depending on your industry your workplace may:

  • be required to be closed for onsite work
  • remain open for onsite work with a completed COVIDSafe Plan or High Risk COVIDSafe Plan
  • be subject to restricted operations or industry specific obligations.

These restrictions may be updated at any time. You must stay up to date with any changes for your industry.

How are my OHS obligations impacted by the restrictions?

There is no change to your obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) as a result of the restrictions.

Preparation of a COVIDSafe Plan forms part of the development of a safe system of work, however having a COVIDSafe Plan and complying with Chief Health Officer Directions does not necessarily mean you have complied with your duties under the OHS Act and OHS Regulations.

You must follow any health directions that apply to how your business must operate as well as ensure that you are meeting your obligations under the OHS Act. Employees must also comply with their duties under the OHS Act.

Background

Victorians over the age of 12 must wear a face mask when they leave their home, unless they have a lawful excuse not to.

This should be a fitted face mask that covers the nose and mouth to provide the wearer protection against infection. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recommends that face masks are at least 3-ply.

Loose fitting face coverings such as bandanas or scarves, along with face shields worn without a face mask, are no longer acceptable.

Wearing a face mask provides a physical barrier to coronavirus (COVID-19), by preventing the spread of droplets generated when talking, coughing or sneezing, which helps to protect others in the community.

If you have a lawful reason for not wearing a face mask, you can choose to wear a face shield on its own. A list of lawful exceptions for not wearing a face mask is available on the DHHS website.

Identifying and controlling risks

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act), employers must provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, by implementing suitable control measures so far as is reasonably practicable.

This can be achieved by applying the hierarchy of controls. The most effective control measures to reduce transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) are to:

  • physically isolate, for example by working from home where it is reasonably practicable
    • maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres from others
      • practice good hygiene by washing your hands thoroughly and regularly
        • cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow
          • maintain a thorough routine of cleaning and disinfection
            • wear a suitable fitted face mask

              The CHO has directed that employers must take reasonable steps to ensure that employees wear a face mask at all times when working at the employer's premises.

              Where the work or task requires the use of specific types of face masks in the workplace, these must be provided by the employer.

              Where an employee seeks to provide and use their own face mask 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 mask is safe and suitable for the workplace and work activities being performed, providing policies and procedures in relation to the use of face masks 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.

              Consultation with employees and HSRs

              Employers must consult, so far as is reasonably practicable, with employees and health and safety representatives (HSRs), if any, on matters related to health and safety. This includes consulting on how face masks and masks such as shields are implemented within the workplace.

              Consultation with individual employees may be required to identify whether wearing a face mask is appropriate for them, taking into account any health conditions they may have. For example, employees who suffer from respiratory issues, such as asthma.

              Using face masks in workplaces

              Where the work or task requires the use of specific types of face masks in the workplace, these must be provided by the employer.

              The CHO has directed that employers must take reasonable steps to ensure that employees wear a face mask at all times when working at the employer's premises.

              Employees have a duty to cooperate with their employer's actions to comply with their duties under the OHS Act.

              Employees may already wear respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to control risks associated with their work. Where RPE is worn at the workplace, the employer must conduct a risk assessment to ensure that the level of RPE provided controls the risks associated with their work including the risk of exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19).

              The CHO direction to wear a face mask does not apply to people with breathing difficulties or any other condition that makes it difficult to wear one. Employers should seek further advice if they are concerned about vulnerable employees wearing a face mask or attending the workplace. For example, by calling the DHHS 24-hour coronavirus (COVID-19) hotline on 1800 675 398.

              Correct use of face masks

              Face masks are only effective when they are worn and maintained correctly. For example, it is very easy for a face mask to lose its effectiveness if it does not fit, if the front is touched whilst wearing it, or if it is not washed or disposed of appropriately.

              Employers must also provide information, instruction, training and supervision to employees and contractors on:

              • when face masks are to be worn
                • how to put on and wear face masks correctly to ensure they are effective
                  • how long face masks can be worn
                    • how to remove face masks safely, including changing them during shifts
                      • how to safely store and wash reusable face masks or dispose of single use masks

                        It is particularly important to provide training for reusable face masks (such as cloth masks), including for cleaning and storage. Detailed information about the correct use of face masks is available on the DHHS website.

                        Employers need to provide appropriate hygiene amenities for employees to safely put on and remove face masks, such as hand washing facilities or alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Where employers provide reusable face masks, they should also provide facilities for cleaning them.

                        Employees have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, which includes following the information, instruction and training provided on how to correctly wear their face mask.

                        Legal duties

                        Employers have duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act), which include that they must, so far as is reasonably practicable:

                        • provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors, including psychological health
                          • provide such information, instruction, training or supervision to employees and independent contractors as is necessary to enable those persons to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health
                            • monitor the health of employees
                              • monitor conditions at any workplace under the employer's management and control
                                • provide information concerning health and safety to employees, including (where appropriate) in languages other than English
                                  • ensure that persons other than employees of the employer are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of the employer
                                    • consult with employees and HSRs, if any, on matters related to health or safety that directly affect, or are likely to directly affect them

                                      Employees also have duties under the OHS Act, which includes that they must:

                                      • take reasonable care for their own health and safety
                                        • take reasonable care for the health and safety of persons who may be affected by the employee's acts or omissions at a workplace
                                          • co-operate with their employer with respect to any action taken by the employer to comply with a requirement imposed by or under the OHS Act

                                            The OHS Act gives HSRs a role in raising and resolving any OHS issues with their employer, and powers to take issues further if necessary. For more information see the guidance on powers for HSRs.