Face coverings

Where must they be worn and what are the exemptions?

Face coverings have become an increasingly necessary measure to be worn in many public settings.

It is important to understand that whilst they are required in many workplaces, they are not personal protective equipment (PPE) and are not covered by heath and safety law.  

What is a face covering?

Face coverings reduce the spread of Covid droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking. 

They are worn to protect other people from coronavirus, rather than the wearer themselves. They must cover the nose and mouth, otherwise the covering will not be effective. 

GMB believes that where a face covering is required in the workplace, or during any work activity, the employer must be responsible for providing them – free of charge – to ensure that they are effective and meet the required standard. 

World Health Organisation Standards should be the minimum specification provided. The covering should have 3 layers: 

  • inner layer to the mouth to be hydrophilic material (such as cotton);
  • middle layer to act as a filter and be made of polypropylene fabric; and 
  • outer layer to be made of hydrophobic material  such as polyester or polycotton, which will repel moisture and droplets 

Where must they be worn in the UK?

Face coverings are now compulsory across the UK when: 

  • In shops, supermarkets and shopping centres  
  • Travelling on public transport 
  • Not seated at a table to eat or drink in pubs, restaurants or cafes 
  • In England and Scotland, face coverings are also compulsory in a number of indoor spaces, including: 
  • Banks, building societies and post offices 
  • Places of worship 
  • Museums, galleries and entertainment venues 
  • Libraries and public reading rooms 

In  Wales, face coverings must be worn in all indoor public places by customers and staff. 

In  Northern Ireland, they must be worn in "any other indoor place where goods or services are available to buy or rent". 

What about exemptions?

Some people are exempt from wearing face coverings. They include: 

  • Children (under 11 in England or Wales, under 13 in Northern Ireland, under five in Scotland) 
  • Those unable to put on or wear a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or disability – some people may choose to wear a badge or lanyard signifying this. 
  • People for whom wearing or removing a face covering will cause severe distress 
  • Anyone assisting someone who relies on lip reading to communicate 
  • In addition, people can take their face covering off if: 
  • They need to eat, drink, or take medication 
  • A police officer or other official asks them to, or for shop staff to verify their age 
  • Young children should not wear face coverings because of the risk of choking and suffocation.  

These exemptions will be accepted, but not wearing a face covering when one is required if now a legal offence if you are not exempt. 

People can be refused travel for not following the rules, and can be fined. 

In England, the police can issue a £200 fine to someone breaking the face-covering rules. In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, a £60 fine can be imposed. Fines increase for repeated offences. 

What are the face-covering rules in schools?

The UK Government does not recommend that face coverings are worn in schools, as the Department for Education believes that handwashing, cleaning and social distancing are enough to control the risk.  

However, each nation is adopting different rules: 

  • In  England, secondary schools will have the ''discretion'' to require face coverings in communal areas, where social distancing is not possible.  
    • They are mandatory for schools in parts of England that are under local restrictions (High and Very High levels), but not in classrooms 
  • The Scottish government says all pupils aged over 12 should wear face coverings in corridors and communal areas, but not in classrooms 
  • In  Wales, face coverings are recommended in high schools when social distancing is "unlikely to be maintained", but are not compulsory 
  • In  Northern Ireland, face coverings must be worn in the corridors of post-primary schools 
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