Should You Make Your Employees Wear Face Masks? (Photo by Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash)
As the world crawls back to life, many of the pandemic’s traces still trail in its wake. One of the most iconic new trends that have arisen in light of COVID-19 is the ever-present face mask. More faces than ever are now adorned by these masks, but one crucial question remains: should employees have to wear face masks?
If you’re a business owner, this question is even more pertinent. On the one hand, you may have personal feelings against wearing face masks, which could range from anywhere between their discomfort and not enjoying having your freedom impinged upon. No matter where you fall on the debate personally, you’ll soon discover that your personal feelings may be dwarfed by public concern and a potential drop in business if you decide to realize your ideas too vigorously.
How long does that modify your behaviour for?
Lee Mills, director of Health and Safety over at Citation, uses a great metaphor to convey the impact wearing a face mask can have on both personal and public health, likening mask-wearing to speed safety zones: “if you go through one in a 30 mph zone at 60 mph, you know you will get the flash and a letter in the post. So, you slow down; your behaviour is modified. However, how long does that modify your behaviour for? To the end of the white lines…” What Mills means to say is that humans will not tend to modify their behaviour if they do not see an immediate, threatening reaction. In other words, not wearing a mask doesn’t mean you’re bound to get the virus, and the Lord knows how people like to take their chances.
Mills expounds further on the employee mask-wearing debate by explaining the PICNIC phenomenon: “In the health and safety world, we talk about a consequence needing to be PICNIC for it to take effect – Positive Immediate and Certain or Negative Immediate and Certain. A speed camera is Negative, Immediate and Certain. Not using a face mask does not provide an immediate consequence, therefore, for us to use RPE consistently in the workplace, you firstly need to provide coaching and education into why you are asking your employees to wear such equipment.”
Face masks vs. face coverings
Before we go, let’s clarify something: there is a pretty significant difference between face masks and face coverings. Face coverings are non-medical-grade cloth masks that can be purchased or made at home. Most establishments allow their employees to wear these. In contrast, face masks are medical-grade respirators that have typically been relegated to healthcare workers throughout the pandemic, so they are much more likely to be in short supply than face coverings.
In short, no protective measures are effective without consistency, so employers seeking to enforce a mask-wearing rule for their employees should see to it that it’s closely followed. Fortunately, companies like Hawk Safety have taken the lead in terms of mask variety for food industry workers, so business owners can rest assured that their concerns are being noted by personal protective equipment manufacturers.