Attention employers: Beware of issuing branded cloth masks
By Jason Braithwaite
Brand cloth masks are good marketing and they meet current Government guidelines, but they should be viewed as professional protective equipment and, as such, they are not up to standard when it comes to making your team safer from Omicron.
Bear in mind that as an employer you are responsible for the health and safety of your staff on-site, and issuing PPE equipment that is not fit for purpose could have implications in the future.
The ambiguity, and potential unreliability, of public health advice was brought to light recently when Canada Post insisted an employee wear the company’s branded cloth mask. The worker was stood down after he insisted on using an N95 grade mask to protect his wife, who has pre-existing conditions.
If your staff were working at heights, you wouldn’t issue them with a poor quality harness. The same applies to the masks. Besides the fact that staff members are more likely to get ill, even seriously ill, your business will suffer when half your team is off sick.
Here at BeSafe, we had to review the use of branded cloth masks to align with the current recommendations. It’s a great bit of branding, and you think you’re doing the right thing, but if you want to protect your team and your business, toss the branded cloth masks and go with an N95 grade mask.
- Use good quality safety equipment
The evolving nature of the pandemic has resulted in oscillating messaging over the last couple of years, but the world has steadily moved towards best practice. I don’t doubt that it won’t be long before N95 becomes the standard. It is better to equip your staff with the best when it comes to protecting them, your business and your customers.
- Train staff in how to fit the mask
Like any other health and safety measure, your staff should be trained in best practice, and that includes fitting a mask properly. Even an N95 mask that has been poorly fitted will fail.
- Monitor maintenance
You can wash disposable surgical masks or implement a rotation system if using N95 masks. New Zealand research suggests that washing surgical masks saves money, helps the environment and is still ten times better than a triple-stacked cloth mask. Ensure your staff are cleaning and maintaining their equipment.
Companies could take a guidelines approach or a standards approach but should adopt a standards approach with PPE gear because it is a health and safety issue. You can aim to be compliant, or you can aim to be a leader and do a job that will get the better result.