Do I need to wear a mask to work? Your back to work questions answered

A member of the public walks past the Willis Building in Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

A member of the public walks past the Willis Building in Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

As part of the “roadmap” to end the coronavirus lockdown, prime minister Boris Johnson has encouraged those who cannot work from home to go back to their jobs.

But who is allowed to go back, and under what circumstances?

Here, we answer some question that arose from the prime minister’s speech and the government documents.

MORE: Suffolk pub selling 500 takeaway pints a weekend during coronavirus lockdown1. Who is going back to work?

The government advice stresses that: “For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible.”

However, in his speech Mr Johnson said that those who could not work from home should be “actively encouraged” to go back to work.

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Examples in the government documents include people who work in food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research.

But, they say that people who work in hospitality and non-essential retail should not be going into work, as the government still requires these businesses to be closed.

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2. What precautions should workplaces be taking to keep people safe?

The government guidance on keeping workplaces safe differs slightly between different industries and settings, but it all aims to keep people two metres apart as much as possible.

To do this, they recommend workplaces do things such as implementing one-way systems around buildings so people do not walk too close to each other, staggering start times and breaks, and setting up offices so that people who work in a static position are not too close to each other.

They also recommend taking breaks outside wherever possible.

But they accept that this will not always be possible in workplaces.

So they have told workplaces to wash surfaces more frequently and make sure that people wash their hands regularly.

Screens are also to be used to keep people who are less than two metres apart separate.

3. I normally use public transport to get to work. What should I do?

During his speech, Mr Johnson said: “We want it to be safe for you to get to work. So you should avoid public transport if at all possible - because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited.”

So if there is any other way to get to work, you should take that.

The government has said it will give money to local authorities in order for them to widen pavements and create more cycle lanes in order to encourage more people to walk or cycle.

If it is still necessary to take public transport, government documents say social distancing guidance “must be followed rigorously”.

They also recommend that face-coverings be worn to prevent passing on the virus.

4. Will I need to wear a mask at work?


The government recommends wearing face-coverings in enclosed spaces, but is careful to point out that this is not the same as the masks that may be worn by nurses or doctors.

A government document says: “A face covering can be very simple and may be worn in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible.

“It just needs to cover your mouth and nose. It is not the same as a face mask, such as the surgical masks or respirators used by health and care workers.”

PPE used in an industrial setting – for instance when dealing with dust or paint spraying – should still be used however.

Find all of our coronavirus coverage here.

5. What has the reaction been to the announcement?

The announcement has met with a mixed reaction both nationally and locally.

Some people have praised it, saying that it is important to get the economy moving again.

Others have said it is putting blue collar workers at a greater risk of catching the virus, while white collar professionals are still safe at home.

The Unite union has said the messaging is confusing.

Regional coordinating officer Mark Robinson said: “Workers in Suffolk are confused with the prime minister’s statement.

“Key sites in food production have been working through the crisis and Unite has worked with employers to ensure adequate safety measures are in place.

“However, employers who have furloughed staff may not be ready to spring back at such short notice. Many people still rely on public transport to get to work and it will be impossible for them to walk or cycle. Workers with school age children will also be concerned as clarity regarding visiting relatives was not provided on Sunday and childcare will undoubtedly be a major issue.

“It is imperative that Suffolk employers work with their trade unions or worker representative bodies to ensure that no return is attempted before risk assessments have been carried out and a safe system of work has been developed.”

Suffolk Chamber of Commerce boss John Dugmore said: “Businesses share the prime minister’s ambition to see more people return safely to work over the coming weeks, while protecting the NHS and saving lives.

“Therefore, the fight against the virus must remain the top priority, but the planning and communication of a carefully phased approach to lifting lockdown must begin immediately if we are harness the economic benefits both now and in the future.

“We will now seek detail and clarity from the government so that our members can plan accordingly and ensure they re-open in a safe manner, therefore aiding not only their own, but the county’s and UK’s economic recovery without leading to a second spike of the virus.

“Alongside this, the Chamber will continue to press government to provide further detail of its planned continuation of government support schemes, which have saved millions of jobs across the UK in recent weeks. We need to ensure these schemes continue for as long as they are needed to prevent redundancies during the economic downturn.

“Our members stand ready and will do everything they can to protect employees and customers, maintain social distancing and operate successfully as more sections of the economy are permitted to reopen.

“We look forward to seeing more detail about the prime minister’s roadmap to provide clarity and direction to all.”

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