All You Need To Know: Face Masks

What is a face mask? 

A face covering is something that securely protects the nose and mouth in the case of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Face masks are available in both reusable and single-use varieties. A scarf, bandana, religious garment, or hand-made fabric covering can also be worn, but they must snugly fit around the side of the face. 

Face masks are not considered PPE (personal protective equipment), and is used in a small range of settings to shield wearers from threats and dangers, such as surgical masks or respirators in medical and industrial settings. 

Instead, since they cover the nose and mouth, which are the key reported sources of transmission of the virus that causes coronavirus infection, face coverings are primarily intended to shield others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection (COVID-19). 

See the MHRA’s (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency) regulatory status of equipment used to help prevent coronavirus for more information on the distinctions between surgical face masks, PPE face masks, and face coverings (COVID-19). 

Face covers or visors 

A face visor or shield can be worn in addition to, but not in place of, a face covering. This is due to the fact that face visors or shields do not have enough coverage for the nose and mouth. 

When do you cover your face? 

Unless you are excluded or have a valid excuse, you must wear a face mask in some places (see When you do not need to wear a face covering below). 

In England, you must cover your face in the following indoor situations (examples in brackets): 

  • utilizing public transportation (aeroplanes, trains, trams and buses) 
  • Taxis and private hire vehicles are available. 
  • hubs for transportation (airports, rail and tram stations and terminals, maritime ports and terminals, bus and coach stations and terminals) 
  • supermarkets and stores (places which offer goods or services for retail sale or hire) 
  • shopping malls (malls and indoor markets) 
  • Houses of auction 
  • Except when seated at a table to eat or drink, establishments that provide hospitality (bars, pubs, restaurants, cafes)  
  • Banks, building societies, high-street solicitors and accountants, credit unions, short-term lending companies, savings clubs, and money service businesses 
  • Agents specializing in real estate and lettings 
  • Personal care and beauty services are available on the premises of theatres (hair salons, barbers, nail salons, massage centres, tattoo and piercing parlours) 
  • locations that provide veterinary services 
  • Attractions and entertainment venues for visitors 
  • Public reading rooms and libraries 
  • Worship locations 
  • providers of funeral services (funeral homes, crematoria and burial ground chapels) 
  • social clubs, community centres, and youth centres 
  • exhibition halls and conference centres are two types of places where you can have a meeting. 
  • areas in hotels and hostels that are open to the public 
  • facilities for storage and distribution 

Before entering any of these locations, you must put on a face covering and keep it on until you leave unless there is a valid reason to remove it. 

Indoor areas not mentioned here where social distancing may be difficult and where you can come into contact with people you do not usually meet should also be covered with a face covering. 

In NHS settings, such as hospitals and primary or community care settings like GP surgeries, face coverings are required. They are also recommended for use in nursing homes. 

The Department for Education (DfE) has revised its guidelines on the wearing of face coverings in schools and other educational institutions in England that educate students in years 7 and up. 

If you don’t follow the regulation, you’ll face penalties. 

Where face coverings are needed, businesses should take appropriate measures to ensure that the law is followed. 

If members of the public may not comply with this legislation without a legitimate exception, the police can take action, and public transportation providers can restrict access to their facilities if a passenger is not wearing a face covering, or tell them to wear one or leave. 

If required, police and Transport for London (TfL) officers may use their compliance powers to levy fines of up to £200 (reduced to £100 if paid within 14 days) for the first offense. 

Fines for repeat offenders receiving fines on public transportation or in an indoor environment would be doubled for each offense. 

There will be no discount for the first offense. A second fine, for example, will cost £400, and a third fine will cost £800, up to a maximum of £6,400. 

When you don’t need to cover your face 

Some people may not be able to wear a face covering in situations where they are allowed in England. 

Please be aware of and respectful of such situations. Some people are unable to wear face coverings for reasons that are not readily apparent to others. 

This includes (but is not limited to) the following items: 

kids under 11 years old (Public Health England does not recommend face coverings for children under the age of 3 for health and safety reasons) 

If you are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound, or facial expressions to communicate to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, people who cannot put on, wear, or remove a face covering due to a physical or mental illness or impairment, or a disability where putting on, wearing, or removing a face covering can cause you severe distress if you are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound, or facial expressions 

You can also remove a face covering in the following circumstances: 

if asked to do so for identification in a bank, building society, or post office if asked to do so by shop staff or relevant employees for identification, for assessing health recommendations (for example, by a pharmacist), or for age identification purposes, including when buying age-restricted products such as alcohol if required in order to receive treatment or services, for example when getting a driver’s license if required in order to receive treatment or services, for example when getting a driver’s license When you’ve finished eating or drinking, you must put your face covering back on. 

The government’s guidelines for keeping staff and customers safe during COVID-19 in restaurants, pubs, bars, and takeaway services specifically recommends that, where possible, designated indoor seating areas for customers to eat or drink should only be available for table service at this time, in addition to other infection prevention measures. 

Cards with exemptions 

If you are not wearing a face covering because of your age, fitness, or disability: 

You don’t need to show some written proof of this, and you don’t need to show an exemption card. 

This ensures you don’t need to seek medical advice or get a letter from a doctor explaining why you’re not wearing a face covering. 

Some people, on the other hand, may feel more at ease displaying something that states they are not required to wear a face covering. This may be in the form of a certificate, a badge, or even a hand-made sign. It is a personal preference to wear an exemption card or badge; it is not mandated by statute. 

You can download exemption card templates if you choose to use an exemption card or badge. After that, you can print them or display them on a mobile device. Please notice that physical exemption cards or certificates are not available from the government. 

Please refer to the relevant guidelines for Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales for exemptions in various parts of the UK. 

The reason for wearing a face mask Coronavirus (COVID-19) is transmitted by droplets from coughs, sneezes, and talking. If you touch a surface and then your face without washing your hands first, these droplets can be picked up. This is why maintaining social distance, practicing good hand hygiene, and covering coughs and sneezes are so critical in preventing the virus from spreading. 

According to the best available scientific evidence, wearing a face covering will help protect others by reducing the spread of coronavirus droplets when used correctly. 

Face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing and routine hand washing since they are designed to shield others rather than the wearer from coronavirus (COVID-19). It’s important to follow the rest of the government’s coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance, which includes staying safe outside your house. If you have recent onset of any of the most important symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19): 

You and your household must isolate at home if you have a new continuous cough, a high fever, or a loss of, or improvement in, your usual sense of smell or taste (anosmia). Wearing a face mask has little impact on this. You should schedule a test to determine whether you have COVID-19. 


How to Wear a Face Mask 

A face mask should have the following features: 

  • Enable you to breathe comfortably while covering your nose and mouth. 
  • be secured to the head with ties or ear loops to fit comfortably but firmly against the side of the face 
  • be made of a material that is comfortable and breathable for you, such as cotton 
  • At least two layers of fabric are recommended (the World Health Organization recommends 3, depending on the fabric used) 

Unless it is disposable, it should be able to be washed and dried like other laundry according to fabric washing directions without causing harm to the face covering. 

When wearing a face mask, make sure to: 

Before putting on a face covering, wash your hands vigorously with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer. Avoid wearing on your neck or forehead. Avoid touching the part of the face covering that comes into contact with your mouth and nose, as it may be infected with the virus. 

If the face covering gets damp or if you touch it, remove it. Stop taking it off and putting it back on several times in a row (for example, when leaving and entering shops on a high street) 

When removing a face mask, keep the following in mind: 

Before removing the belts, ties, or clips, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer just treat the straps, ties, or clips do not give it to anyone else to use if single-use, dispose of it carefully in a residual waste bin and do not recycle if reusable It should be washed according to the manufacturer’s instructions at the maximum temperature recommended for the fabric. 

After removing your gloves, wash them thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer. 

Face masks are worn at work. 

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has given extensive workplace guidelines. Employers must ensure that COVID-19 risks are addressed in their risk evaluation, using BEIS guidelines to inform decisions and control measures such as close proximity working. 

It’s important to remember that coronavirus (COVID-19) requires a hierarchy or system of control, which includes social distancing, strict hand hygiene, increased surface washing, fixed teams or partnering, and other steps including using screens or walls to keep people apart. 

These are still the safest ways to manage risk in the workplace, although in some cases, wearing a face covering can be potentially advantageous and a precautionary measure; this would mostly be to protect others rather than the wearer. Normal policies on workplace workwear and personal protective equipment (PPE) will continue to apply. 

Staff working in an indoor environment 

Retail, entertainment, and hospitality employees must wear face coverings in any indoor environment that is accessible to the public and where they are likely to come into contact with a customer. This contains the following: 

supermarkets, bars, pubs, restaurants, cafes, banks, and real estate agents 

public areas with hotels and hostels, post offices 

Staff behind the barrier would not be allowed to wear a face mask if they have taken measures to establish a physical barrier between staff and members of the public in accordance with Health and Safety Executive guidelines for COVID-19 protected workplaces. 

Employers should evaluate the use of face coverings in other indoor settings on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the workplace climate, other relevant mitigations, and whether exemptions or fair excuses apply. 

Employees should continue to follow their employer’s instructions based on a workplace health and safety evaluation. 

Check out the government’s workplace settings guide for detailed guidelines and criteria. 

Staff in the transportation industry 

The legislation does not mandate transportation employees to wear a face mask. Face coverings, on the other hand, have certain advantages in circumstances where social distance is difficult to handle. For instance, while employed in passenger-facing positions, such as assisting disabled passengers. 

Staff should wear a face covering when they are unable to maintain social distance in passenger-facing positions, with the understanding that there may be special situations when a staff member cannot wear a face covering, or where their job makes it sensible (based on a risk assessment) for them not to wear one. 

Purchasing and selling face masks 

Face coverings are sold by a wide number of retailers in the UK, both online and in stores. The conformance of a product to certain requirements can be found in the product specifics section of the website, or on the packaging or mark of the covering itself. Manufacturers and sellers of face coverings should use the Office for Product and Safety Standards (OPSS) guidelines. 

There are currently no UK product guidelines for face coverings due to the uncertainty of the various contexts in which COVID-19 can spread and the rapidly evolving and increasing evidence base on the efficacy of face masks and coverings. 

On June 17, the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) accepted a Workshop Agreement with performance criteria, testing methods, and group face covering applications. This was established under the auspices of AFNOR (the French national standardization organization), which in March 2020 issued a French specification for ‘barrier masks’ aimed at both mask manufacturers and the general public. 

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) published a specification for Textile Barrier Face Coverings in June 2020, which includes both disposable and reusable options. The specification lays out the specifications for coverings in terms of design, consistency, and chemical composition, as well as labeling instructions. Tests for filtration quality, which are included in the CEN and AFNOR guidelines, are not included in the performance criteria. 

The British Standards Institution will not develop its own standard and will instead use the CEN Workshop Agreement. The public can read copies of both the CEN and the AFNOR documents for free. 

Creating your own face mask 

If you want to make your own face mask, there are plenty of instructions available online. We don’t recommend any specific form, but materials and fabrics that irritate different skin types should be avoided. 

New research indicates that using thicker fabrics or several layers will reduce the risk of transmission. The face covering should, however, be breathable. 

Face coverings for children should be made under the guidance of an adult, and they should only be attached to the head with ear loops. 

Visit the Big Community Sew website for more details on how to make a face covering out of materials found around the house. Step-by-step video guides on how to make face coverings, as well as other helpful hints and suggestions, can be found here. 

Face coverings: how to keep them clean and how to get rid of them 

Do not hit the face covering’s front or the part of the face covering that has come into contact with your mouth or nose. 

Reusable face coverings should be stored in a plastic bag before you have a chance to wash them. Dispose of the face covering in a residual waste bin whether it is single-use. Put them in the trash, not the recycling bin. 

Using common household cleaning items to clean any surfaces that the face covering has come into contact with. It is important not to put the face covering on the table while eating in a cafe, for example. 

Regularly wash your face covering and follow the fabric’s washing directions. You can use any detergent you like. It can be washed and dried like your other clothes. If your face mask is broken, you must discard it.

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