Trade unions say that free face masks should be made available to all workers who need to wear them, including for on the daily commute.
Surgical-grade protective face masks should be provided for all UK workers who need to wear them, either for work or while commuting on public transport.
That is the position taken by unions such as Unite and GMB, as the government encourages people to return to the workplace from 1 August.
The unions believe that masks should be provided by employers if they are deemed necessary to wear in order to prevent COVID-19 transmission, as workers should not have to foot the bill themselves.
The government’s guidance on the use of masks and face coverings has been criticised for being too vague, with the World Health Organization stating that only coverings with three layers should be worn to have any meaningful effect against the transmission of COVID-19.
Unite said that the government should consider stepping in and helping towards the cost of providing effective masks for workers if businesses are struggling to do so, as the French government have done.
Unite estimate that it would cost workers that use public transport to get to and from work an extra £25 per month on disposable, three-layered surgical-grade masks. These costs would rise further if they are also required to wear a mask at the workplace.
Rob Migeul, Unite’s health and safety adviser, said: “The government should provide proper masks and finance it. If this can be done in other countries successfully it should be done here.”
A spokesperson for the GMB union said: “Most people have no idea about face-mask standards. They should be the WHO backed ones, of three layers.
“It is the responsibility of the employer to provide the mask. Something that explains what employers are meant to do would be beneficial when it comes to protective equipment.”
The Community trade union is also calling for the government to fund free masks for workers. Kate Dearden, Head of research, policy and external relations at Community, said: “If employers need their workforce to re-enter the workplace then they need to be providing them with the necessary PPE for all activities related to their work.
“We are increasingly concerned that those returning to work will have to fork out for the PPE they need to keep themselves and others safe while travelling to and from their workplace.
“Good employers will already be providing this PPE, or preparing to provide it when their workforce return, but government should go further and require employers to provide it.”
The government has said it is keen to see the UK’s workforce return to workplaces and city centres from the start of August in an effort to revive flagging high streets that rely on a heavy footfall.
Their advice for businesses is that employers should carry out a risk assessment to address the potential risk of COVID-19 transmission and there is a hierarchy of measures that should be taken in the workplace, such as social distancing, increased hand hygiene, increased surface cleaning, using variable shift patterns and using screens to keep colleagues separated.