Fitted face masks must be worn in the construction industry

WorkSafe is issuing a safety alert to raise awareness that employees must wear a fitted face mask on construction sites. Loose fitting face coverings and face shields without a face mask are not to be worn.
Safety alert published

Wednesday 23 Sep 2020

Industries and topics
  • Construction
  • Coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • Infectious diseases
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Background

To slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), the Chief Health Officer (CHO) has issued directions about face masks being worn across Victoria. From 11:59pm 11 October, everyone aged 12 years and over must wear a fitted face mask when leaving their home, unless they have a lawful excuse for not doing so.

The CHO directions are that an employer must take reasonable steps to ensure employees wear a face mask at all times when working at a work premises.

It should be a fitted face mask that covers the nose and mouth to provide the wearer with protection against infection.

Safety issues

Wearing a fitted 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.

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

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.

Serious and even fatal injuries (such as lacerations, scalping and suffocation) can also occur if loose fitting face coverings become entangled in rotating parts of power tools and equipment such as drills, saws, angle grinders and augers.

Control measures

Face shields without a fitted mask must not be worn, without a lawful reason.

Loose fitting face-coverings such as bandanas and scarves must not be worn.

Image depicts 3 construction workers, 1 using a bandana as a face covering, 1 using a scarf and 1 using a face shield without a face mask on underneath.

Figure 1: Examples of loose face coverings like bandanas and scarves, and of a face shield.

Employers should:

  • ensure that face masks worn by employees at the workplace are safe and suitable for the work activities being performed, including face masks provided by employees
  • ensure employees do not wear loose fitting face coverings that may get caught in machinery
  • ensure that employees use a fitted face mask
  • provide operators with adequate training and appropriate supervision prior to and when using equipment
  • provide and maintain adequate warning signs as a constant reminder to operators and others of the potential hazards associated with equipment.

Examples of a fitted face mask

Image of 2 construction workers, 1 wearing a surgical mask and 1 wearing a reusable cloth mask.

Figure 2: Close fitting disposable mask at left, reusable close fitting cloth mask at right.

Note: Employees may already wear respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to control risks associated with their work (for example welding, asbestos removal, chemical spraying). 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 the work being performed, including the risk of exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19).

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 health and safety representatives (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 of HSRs.