Blog, news & updates

When should I wear a face covering?

When should I wear a face covering?

Up to date information from 13th July 2021:

The legal requirement to wear a face-covering in shops, public transport and other enclosed public spaces will end on 19 July. Instead, it will be replaced with government guidance.

"The government expects and recommends that face coverings are worn in crowded and enclosed spaces, such as public transport, when mixing with people you don’t normally meet." (Boris Johnson, 12th July)

For more information about how to stay safe and help prevent the spread from 19 July, please visit the website.

The below blog was accurate at the time of publishing in July 2020.

COVID-19 has been said to spread by respiratory droplets that people produce when they sneeze, cough or talk. Some recent studies have shown that a lot of people carrying COVID-19 are actually asymptomatic and some people are able to transmit the virus before they are showing symptoms themselves.  

There are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure, but Government advice states that wearing a covering will not necessarily protect you from the disease, but it will help to protect others you come into close contact with. Face coverings are intended to work as a preventative measure. 

Evidence suggests that wearing a face-covering does not protect you. However, if you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms, it may provide some protection for others you come into close contact with.

Read more about wearing face coverings outside your home from here.

What is the difference between a face-covering and face-mask?

A face mask covers the nose and mouth. A face mask might be a surgical mask or respirator used mainly by healthcare professionals to limit the spread of infection, or a face mask intended to protect the wearer as part of their job (PPE). They are resistant to droplets of fluids and splashes and are manufactured to a recognised standard. 

A face covering also covers the nose and mouth. They’re designed for the use of the general public and to protect others, rather than the wearer. You can use reusable or single-use face covering or use things such as bandanas, scarfs or a hand made cloth covering as a face covering. They are not classed as PPE and they are not manufactured to a recognised standard (anyone can make one) and they do not provide protection for work risks such as spray or dust. You are not required to purchase a face covering, you can make your own. (Read more)

Face coverings are not being correctly worn if they do not cover your mouth and nose, they are damaged or damp, loose-fitting, and you should not touch your mask, remove it to speak or share your mask with others.  

Are face coverings PPE?

As mentioned above, face coverings are not PPE.

Face coverings are not classed as personal protective equipment (PPE) as they:
• are generally not manufactured to a recognised standard and not CE marked
• do not provide a proven level of protection for work risks such as dust and spray


When am I required to wear a face covering?

Since the 15th June, anyone travelling on public transport in England has been required to wear a face-covering (see people who are exempt here). People can be both refused travel or faced with a fine if they refuse to wear a covering. This excludes cruise ships, school transport, taxis and private hire vehicles. However, Uber has made face coverings compulsory. It is also compulsory in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and Wales will make it mandatory from the 27th July.

From the 24th July, it will become mandatory to wear a face-covering in shops, supermarkets and indoor shopping centres in England. While shop workers do not have to wear a covering, anyone who fails to wear one when visiting a shop could be faced with a fine of up to £100. In Scotland, it has been mandatory since the 10th of July. You also have to wear one inside indoor transport hubs like airports, rail stations, maritime ports and terminals, bus and coach stations and terminals, as well as banks and post offices. 

You should also wear a face-covering when attending a hospital as a visitor or outpatient. Hospitals will be able to provide them in emergencies but you should aim to bring your own.

From the 8th August, Government advice has extended wearing a face mask to be mandatory in the following settings:

• funeral directors
• premises providing professional, legal or financial services
• cinemas
• theatres
• bingo halls
• concert halls
• museums, galleries, aquariums, indoor zoos or visitor farms, or other indoor tourist, heritage or cultural sites.
• nail, beauty, hair salons and barbers - other than where necessary to remove for treatments
• massage parlours
• public areas in hotels and hostels
• place of worship
• libraries and public reading rooms
• community centres
• social clubs
• tattoo and piercing parlours
• indoor entertainment venues (amusement arcades, funfairs, adventure activities e.g. laser quest, go-karting, escape rooms, heritage sites etc)
• storage and distribution facilities
• veterinary services
• auction houses

Should I wear a face-covering at work?

“Where you are already using PPE in your work activity to protect against non-COVID-19 risks, you should continue to do so.” ( This advice is also not applicable to those working in healthcare settings. 

There is no universal face-covering government guidance for workplaces because of the variety of work environments in different industries. 

But if, for example, you work/own a business in an office-based environment, even though it is not required to wear a covering, employers should support employees who choose to wear a face-covering while at work. You should still adhere to the other COVID-19 measures in place at your workplace. 

If for example, you work in a shop/supermarket, as mentioned above, you currently do not have to wear a covering. 

See specific advice for your industry here.

It is important to remember that face coverings are not a replacement for other ways of managing risk e.g. social distancing.

If you are also exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 then you must isolate, this does not mean you can still go out but with a face covering on. You should also be mindful that the wearing of a face-covering may inhibit communication with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound.

See our additional FAQs and Resources for Coronavirus and Returning to Work for other useful workplace resources. 

Returning to Work Essentials Bundle