The Australian Government Department of Health does not generally recommend the wearing of face masks by healthy people in the community. However, there may be occasions when it is recommended that the general public wear face masks where there is community transmission and physical distancing is difficult to maintain.

The main benefit of wearing a mask is to protect others. If the person wearing the mask is unknowingly infected, wearing a mask will reduce the chances of them passing the virus on to others. 

Some states and territories have issued directions about wearing face masks in public and other specific settings. This is based on the local situation. It is important that you keep up to date with recommendations and directions that apply nationally, and in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace.

The Victorian Government has implemented mandatory requirements for wearing face masks and WorkSafe Victoria has published information about the use of face masks for employers.

Face masks, in combination with other personal protective equipment, can be an effective control measure for workers when it is not possible to maintain physical distancing from symptomatic people (for example, health care and aged care). The type of face mask used will depend on the setting. For example, respirator face masks (P2 or N95) are usually only required for health care workers when carrying out clinical procedures that generate aerosols. Wearing a face mask may also be appropriate in some non-health care settings or workplaces. For example, 

  • in the cleaning industry if a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 is in the area to be cleaned (e.g. a hotel room), or
  • where directed or recommended by a state or territory (e.g. under public health orders or in areas where there is community transmission).

Where face masks are provided at the workplace, workers must be trained in how to fit, use and dispose of them appropriately. 

More information

For more information on face masks and their use in minimising the transmission of  COVID-19 please refer to the infographic types and uses of face masks

The Australian Government Department of Health has published information on when masks should be worn in the community in Australia and general COVID-19 information on face masks and who should use them

See further information on the use of masks in the health care industry.

See further information on the use of masks for aged care providers

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has also published advice on surgical masks and gowns during COVID-19

What are surgical masks?

Surgical masks are loose-fitting, generally disposable masks that form a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and the immediate environment. Surgical masks do not achieve a close seal to the wearer's face, however are useful in limiting the spread of large particles/droplets from an infected person (such as cough or sneeze spray). 

Single use surgical masks are designed for medical settings and are appropriate for most health care scenarios. Further information for health care workers about the use of face masks is available on the Department of Health website

What are cloth masks?

A cloth mask is a nose and mouth covering made from a washable fabric such as cotton or denim. Cloth masks may be recommended for wearing by the general public where there is community transmission and where it is difficult to maintain physical distancing. It is recommended that cloth masks be properly constructed to ensure they provide adequate protection and are handled and washed appropriately. 

The Australian Government Department of Health and the Victorian Government have issued guidance on cloth masks.

What are high particulate respirator (P2 or N95) masks?

P2 and N95 masks are designed to help reduce respiratory exposure to airborne contaminants. They are used when there is a high probability of transmission from particles or droplets in the air. P2 and N95 masks must have a good facial fit to be effective.

Workers must be trained in how to fit, use and dispose of P2 and N95 masks. 

For COVID-19, P2/N95 masks should only be used in health care settings in certain circumstances. Further information for health care workers about the use of face masks is available on the Department of Health website.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for P2 masks. This extra demand is leading to fake respiratory protective equipment entering the Australian market. 

Read SafeWork NSW’s safety alert on key things to check to ensure that masks meet the required standards and what to do if you come across a mask that is not fit for purpose.

Do I need to provide masks to workers?

For most businesses, there will be no need to provide face masks. The Australian Government Department of Health does not generally recommend the wearing of face masks by healthy people in the community. In many cases, providing face masks as a control measure against COVID-19 is only required in health care and certain other settings.

However, it may be recommended that the general public wear face masks where there is community transmission and it is difficult to maintain physical distancing. It is important that you keep up to date with the recommendations and directions that apply nationally, and in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace.

The Australian Government Department of Health has published information on when masks should be worn in the community in Australia and general COVID-19 information on face masks and who should use them

If you decide you want your workers to wear face masks, you must provide them. You must also provide appropriate training and instruction on how to put on, wear, remove and dispose of the mask. Fit checking is very important to ensure that the mask is effective. Information about using a mask is provided by the manufacturer. It is also important to maintain good hand hygiene and physical distancing even if you choose to provide a face mask for your workers.

If a worker has been provided training and instruction about using a mask, they must comply with that training and those instructions. 

Single-use surgical masks or properly constructed cloth masks may be used. To ensure their effectiveness, surgical masks must be replaced frequently. Cloth masks must be regularly and thoroughly washed and dried. The Victorian Government has issued guidance on cloth masks.

Can I direct a worker to wear a face mask?

You can direct a worker to wear a face mask if you, in consultation with those workers, decide it necessary to minimise the risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.  

The Australian Government Department of Health does not generally recommend the wearing of face masks by health people in the community. However, there may be occasions when it is recommended that the general public wear face masks where there is community transmission and physical distancing is difficult to maintain. The main benefit of wearing a mask is to protect other people. If the person wearing the mask is unknowingly infected, wearing a mask will also reduce the chance of them passing the virus on to others.  

It is important that you keep up to date with the recommendations and directions that apply nationally, and in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace.

Be aware that the inappropriate or incorrect use of face masks may increase the risk of COVID-19 and may result in new WHS risks. Workers required to wear a mask must be trained in how to wear, remove and dispose of masks, including performing good hand hygiene (washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds) before fitting the mask and before and after taking it off. Masks also need to be replaced frequently and if multi-use stored correctly, in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. 

You will need to ensure that appropriate facilities are provided if masks are used at the workplace. This includes appropriate hand washing facilities and a closed bin to dispose of used masks. 

Single-use surgical masks may be a good option for most workplaces. However, properly constructed cloth masks may be considered if they are replaced frequently and appropriate laundering arrangements are in place. 

Masks on their own will not control the COVID-19 virus. As with all other PPE, masks must be used in conjunction with other control measures such as good hand hygiene (washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds) and physical distancing – keeping everyone at the workplace at least 1.5 metres physically apart. 

Can I direct a worker not to wear a mask?

The Australian Government Department of Health does not generally recommend the wearing of face masks by healthy people in the community. However, there may be occasions when it is recommended that the general public wear face masks where there is community transmission and physical distancing is difficult to maintain. The main benefit of wearing a mask is to protect other people. If the person wearing the mask is unknowingly infected, wearing a mask will also reduce the chance of them passing the virus on to others.  

Some workers may want to wear a mask even if you decide that it is an unnecessary control measure for your workplace.

This is a stressful time for all Australians and some workers may be wearing the mask because they feel unsure or anxious about their health. You should consult with workers on this issue and find out why they want to wear a mask at work. You should also inform workers of the control measures that have been implemented in the workplace to minimise the workers' exposure to the COVID-19 virus. 

Whether you can direct an employee not to wear a mask will depend on whether the direction is permitted by the model WHS laws or is otherwise lawful and reasonable. This will need to be determined on a case by case basis depending on the circumstances. 

However, if your worker is working on their own at home and using their own masks, it is unlikely the direction would be reasonable. Similarly, if the worker is a frontline health worker, you must not direct them not to wear an appropriate face mask. 

The important thing is that you have actively considered whether a mask is an appropriate control measure in minimising exposure to the COVID-19 virus and have done so in consultation with workers, in accordance with any government advice, and in combination with other reasonably practicable, known control measures such as good hand hygiene (washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds) and physical distancing – keeping everyone at the workplace at least 1.5 metres physically apart.

How do I put on, remove and dispose of a face mask?

If a face mask is going to be used at the workplace, you must provide workers with instruction and training on how to use them safely. 

Instructions for effective use of a face mask will be provided by the manufacturer. You should always follow the instructions for use and storage of face masks. Disposable face masks should only be used once and then disposed of appropriately (refer to 'How to dispose of a face mask' below). They should also be replaced if they become soiled or damp. 

The manufacturer will provide details on how to put on and take off your face mask. If you do not have these, you can follow the instructions below. If workers are also wearing gloves, they will need to put their mask on before their gloves. 

The Australian Government Department of Health and the Victorian Government have issued guidance on cloth masks, including instructions on removal and cleaning.

How to put on a face mask

  1. Clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or hand sanitiser before touching the mask or removing it from its packaging. Dry your hands and make sure you do not touch any surfaces (like opening a door) before you handle the mask. 
  2. Remove the mask from its packaging and make sure the mask has no obvious tears, holes or faults. Avoid touching the front of the mask.
  3. Identify the top of the mask (generally it has a stiff bendable edge that will mould to the shape of your nose) and the front of the mask (normally a mask is coloured on the front) with the white side towards your face. 
  4. If your mask has ear loops, hold the mask by the ear loops and place a loop around each ear. If your mask has ties bring the mask to nose level and place the ties over the crown of your head and tie with a bow (leave the bottom set of ties at this time).
  5. If your mask has a band, hold the mask in your hands with the nose piece or top of the mask at your fingertips, the headbands will hang loosely below your hands, then bring the mask to your nose level and pull the top strap over your head to rest on the crown of your head, then pull the bottom strap all the way over your head to rest at the nape of your neck. 
  6. Pinch the stiff nose piece to the shape of your nose. 
  7. If your face mask has ties take the bottom ties (one in each hand) and tie at the nape of your neck with a bow. 
  8. Adjust the bottom of the mask over your mouth and under your chin. 

How to remove a face mask

  1. Clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or hand sanitiser before touching the mask. Dry your hands and avoid touching the front of the mask. 
  2. If you are wearing gloves you should remove your gloves and wash your hands before removing your mask. See our information on Gloves for how to remove your gloves. 
  3. Only touch the ear loops, ties or bands. 
  4. If your mask has ear loops hold both of the ear loops and gently lift and pull the mask away from you and away from your face. 
  5. If your mask has ties untie the bottom bow first (at the nape of your neck), then untie the top bow and pull the mask away from your face as the ties are loosened. 
  6. If your mask has bands lift the bottom strap over your head first, then pull the top strap over your head and pull the mask away from you and away from your face. 
  7. Appropriately dispose of the face mask (refer below).
  8. Clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or hand sanitiser. 

How to dispose of a face mask

Unless contaminated, masks can be disposed of with the general waste, preferably a closed bin. A closed bin is a bin with a fitted lid. 

Where the mask is contaminated it should be disposed of in a closed bin, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place a contaminated mask inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate. 

The bin for contaminated masks should contain two bin liners to ensure the waste is double bagged. Double bagging minimises any exposure to the person disposing of the waste.

A mask would be considered contaminated if it:

  • has been worn by a symptomatic worker or visitor to the workplace, or
  • has been worn by a close contact of a confirmed COVID case, or 
  • is visibly soiled or damp.  

Where a closed bin is not available, the contaminated mask should be placed in a sealed bag (e.g. a zip lock bag) before disposal into the bin.  The sealed bag and a single bin liner are considered equivalent to double bagging.

It is important to follow good hand hygiene after removing and disposing of your mask. 

If you have a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, your state or territory health authority should provide you with advice on what you need to do in your workplace. Follow their instructions. 

For information about the disposal of masks in health care settings, you will need to refer to the Australian Government Department of Health and state and territory health authorities.

Can face masks that are past their shelf life date be used?

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) provides advice on surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They recommend not using face masks that are past their shelf life. However, if there is low supply and high demand, masks can be used by if they are past their shelf life if: 

  • the ear loops, ties or bands are intact 
  • there are no signs of visible damage, and 
  • they can be fit tested. 

The Australian Government Department of Health does not generally recommend the wearing of face masks by healthy people in the community. However, there may be occasions when it is recommended that the general public wear face masks where there is community transmission and physical distancing is difficult to maintain.

The main benefit of wearing a mask is to protect others. If the person wearing the mask is unknowingly infected, wearing a mask will reduce the chances of them passing the virus on to others. 

Some states and territories have issued directions about wearing face masks in public and other specific settings. This is based on the local situation. It is important that you keep up to date with recommendations and directions that apply nationally, and in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace.

The Victorian Government has implemented mandatory requirements for wearing face masks and WorkSafe Victoria has published information about the use of face masks for employers

Face masks, in combination with other personal protective equipment, can be an effective control measure for workers when it is not possible to maintain physical distancing from symptomatic people (for example, health care and aged care). The type of face mask used will depend on the setting. For example, respirator face masks (P2 or N95) are usually only required for health care workers when carrying out clinical procedures that generate aerosols. 

Wearing a face mask may also be appropriate in some non-health care settings or workplaces. For example, 

  • in the cleaning industry if a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 is in the area to be cleaned (e.g. a hotel room), or
  • where directed or recommended by a state or territory (e.g. under public health orders or in areas where there is community transmission).

Where face masks are provided at the workplace, workers must be trained in how to fit, use and dispose of them appropriately. 

More information

For more information on face masks and their use in minimising the transmission of  COVID-19 please refer to the infographic types and uses of face masks

The Australian Government Department of Health has published information on when masks should be worn in the community in Australia and general COVID-19 information on face masks and who should use them

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has also published advice on surgical masks and gowns during COVID-19

See further information on the use of masks in the health care industry.

See further information on the use of masks for aged care providers

What are surgical masks?

Surgical masks are loose-fitting, generally disposable masks that form a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and the immediate environment. Surgical masks do not achieve a close seal to the wearer's face, however are useful in limiting the spread of large particles/droplets from an infected person (such as cough or sneeze spray). 

Single use surgical masks are designed for medical settings  and are appropriate for most health care scenarios.  Further information for health care workers about the use of face masks is available on the Department of Health website.

What are cloth masks?

A cloth mask is a nose and mouth covering made from a washable fabric such as cotton or denim. Cloth masks may be recommended for wearing by the general public where there is community transmission and where it is difficult to maintain physical distancing. It is recommended that cloth masks be properly constructed to ensure they provide adequate protection and are handled and washed appropriately. 

The Australian Government Department of Health and the Victorian Government have issued guidance on cloth masks.

What are high particulate respirator (P2 or N95) masks?

P2 and N95 masks are designed to help reduce respiratory exposure to airborne contaminants. They are used when there is a high probability of transmission from particles or droplets in the air. P2 and N95 masks must have a good facial fit to be effective.

Workers must be trained in how to fit, use and dispose of P2 and N95 masks. 

For COVID-19, P2/N95 masks should only be used in health care settings in certain circumstances. Further information for health care workers about the use of face masks is available on the Department of Health website.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for P2 masks. This extra demand is leading to fake respiratory protective equipment entering the Australian market. 

Read SafeWork NSW’s safety alert on key things to check to ensure that masks meet the required standards and what to do if you come across a mask that is not fit for purpose.

Do I need to provide masks to workers?

For most small businesses, there will be no need to provide face masks. The Australian Government Department of Health does not generally recommend the wearing of face masks by healthy people in the community. In many cases providing face masks as a measure against COVID-19 is only required for health care and other certain settings.

However, it may be recommended that the general public wear face masks where there is community transmission and it is difficult to maintain physical distancing. It is important that you keep up to date with the recommendations and directions that apply nationally, and in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace.  

The Australian Government Department of Health has published information on when masks should be worn in the community in Australia and general COVID-19 information on face masks and who should use them

If you decide you want your workers to wear face masks, you must provide them. You must also provide appropriate training and instruction on how to put on, wear, remove and dispose of the mask. Fit checking is very important to ensure that the mask is effective. Information about using a mask is provided by the manufacturer. 

If a worker has been provided training and instruction about using a mask, they must comply with that training and those instructions. 

Single-use surgical masks or properly constructed cloth masks may be used. To ensure their effectiveness, surgical masks must be replaced frequently. Cloth masks must be regularly and thoroughly washed and dried. The Victorian Government has issued guidance on cloth masks.

Can I direct a worker to wear a face mask?

You can direct a worker to wear a face mask if you, in consultation with those workers, decide it necessary to minimise the risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.  

The Australian Government Department of Health does not generally recommend the wearing of face masks by health people in the community. However, there may be occasions when it is recommended that the general public wear face masks where there is community transmission and physical distancing is difficult to maintain. The main benefit of wearing a mask is to protect other people. If the person wearing the mask is unknowingly infected, wearing a mask will also reduce the chance of them passing the virus on to others. 

It is important that you keep up to date with the recommendations and directions that apply nationally, and in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace.

Be aware that the inappropriate or incorrect use of face masks may increase the risk of COVID-19 and may result in new WHS risks. Workers required to wear a mask must be trained in how to wear, remove and dispose of masks, including performing good hand hygiene (washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds) before fitting the mask and before and after taking it off. Masks also need to be replaced frequently and if multi-use stored correctly, in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. 

You will need to ensure that appropriate facilities are provided if masks are used at the workplace. This includes appropriate hand washing facilities and a closed bin to dispose of used masks. 

Single-use surgical masks may be a good option for most workplaces. However, properly constructed cloth masks may be considered if they are replaced frequently and appropriate laundering arrangements are in place. 

Masks on their own will not control the COVID-19 virus. As with all other PPE, masks must be used in conjunction with other control measures such as good hand hygiene (washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds) and physical distancing – keeping everyone at the workplace at least 1.5 metres physically apart. 

Can I direct a worker not to wear a mask?

The Australian Government Department of Health does not generally recommend the wearing of face masks by healthy people in the community. However, there may be occasions when it is recommended that the general public wear face masks where there is community transmission and physical distancing is difficult to maintain. The main benefit of wearing a mask is to protect other people if you are unwell, wearing a mask will reduce the chance of you passing the virus on to others.  

It is important that you keep up to date with the recommendations and directions that apply nationally, and in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace.

Some workers may want to wear a mask even if you decide that it is an unnecessary control measure for your workplace.

This is a stressful time for all Australians and some workers may be wearing the mask because they feel unsure or anxious about their health. You should consult with workers on this issue and find out why they want to wear a mask at work. You should also inform workers of the control measures that have been implemented in the workplace to minimise the worker’s exposure to the COVID-19 virus. 

Whether you can direct an employee not to wear a mask will depend on whether the direction is permitted by the model WHS laws or is otherwise lawful and reasonable. This will need to be determined on a case by case basis depending on the circumstances. 

However, if your worker is working on their own at home and using their own masks, it is unlikely the direction would be reasonable. Similarly, if the worker is a frontline health worker, you must not direct them not to wear an appropriate face masks. 

The important thing is that you have actively considered whether a mask is an appropriate control measure in minimising exposure to the COVID-19 virus and have done so in consultation with workers, in accordance with any government advice, and in combination with other reasonably practicable, known control measures such as good hand hygiene (washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds) and physical distancing – keeping everyone at the workplace at least 1.5 metres physically apart.

How do I put on, remove and dispose of a face mask?

If a face mask is going to be used at the workplace, you must provide workers with instruction and training on how to use them safely. 

Instructions for effective use of a face mask will be provided by the manufacturer. You should always follow the instructions for use and storage of face masks. Disposable face masks should only be used once and then disposed of appropriately (refer ‘How to dispose of a face mask’ below). They should also be replaced if they become soiled or damp. 

The manufacturer will provide details on how to put on and take off your face mask. If you do not have these, you can follow the instructions below. If workers are also wearing gloves, they will need to put their mask on before your gloves. 

The Australian Government Department of Health and the Victorian Government have issued guidance on cloth masks, including instructions on removal and cleaning.

How to put on a face mask

  1. Clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or hand sanitiser before touching the mask or removing it from its packaging. Dry your hands and make sure you do not touch any surfaces  (like opening a door) before you handle the mask. 
  2. Remove the mask from its packaging and make sure the mask has no obvious tears, holes or faults. Avoid touching the front of the mask.
  3. Identify the top of the mask (generally it has a stiff bendable edge that will mould to the shape of your nose) and the front of the mask (normally a mask is coloured on the front) with the white side towards your face. 
  4. If your mask has ear loops, hold the mask by the ear loops and place a loop around each ear. If your mask has ties bring the mask to nose level and place the ties over the crown of your head and tie with a bow (leave the bottom set of ties at this time).
  5. If your mask has a band, hold the mask in your hands with the nose piece or top of the mask at your fingertips, the headbands will hang loosely below your hands, then bring the mask to your nose level and pull the top strap over your head to rest on the crown of your head, then pull the bottom strap all the way over your head to rest at the nape of your neck. 
  6. Pinch the stiff nose piece to the shape of your nose. 
  7. If your face mask has ties take the bottom ties (one in each hand) and tie at the nape of your neck with a bow. 
  8. Adjust the bottom of the mask over your mouth and under your chin. 

How to remove a face mask

  1. Clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or hand sanitiser before touching the mask. Dry your hands and avoid touching the front of the mask. 
  2. If you are wearing gloves you should remove your gloves and wash your hands before removing your mask. See our information on Gloves for how information on how to remove your gloves. 
  3. Only touch the ear loops, ties or bands. 
  4. If your mask has ear loops hold both of the ear loops and gently lift and pull the mask away from you and away from your face. 
  5. If your mask has ties untie the bottom bow first (at the nape of your neck), then untie the top bow and pull the mask away from your face as the ties are loosened. 
  6. If your mask has bands lift the bottom strap over your head first, then pull the top strap over your head and pull the mask away from you and away from your face. 
  7. Appropriately dispose of the face mask (refer below).
  8. Clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or hand sanitiser. 

How to dispose of a face mask

Unless contaminated, masks can be disposed of with the general waste, preferably a closed bin. A closed bin is a bin with a fitted lid. 

Where the mask is contaminated it should be disposed of in a closed bin, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place a contaminated mask inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate. 

The bin for contaminated masks should contain two bin liners to ensure the waste is double bagged. Double bagging minimises any exposure to the person disposing of the waste.

A mask would be considered contaminated if it:

  • has been worn by a symptomatic worker or visitor to the workplace, or
  • has been worn by a close contact of a confirmed COVID case, or 
  • is visibly soiled or damp.  

Where a closed bin is not available, the contaminated mask should be placed in a sealed bag (e.g. a zip lock bag) before disposal into the bin.  The sealed bag and a single bin liner are considered equivalent to double bagging.

It is important to follow good hand hygiene after removing and disposing of your mask. 

If you have a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, your state or territory health authority should provide you with advice on what you need to do in your workplace. Follow their instructions. 

For information about the disposal of masks in health care settings, you will need to refer to the Australian Government Department of Health and state and territory health authorities.

Can face masks that are past their shelf life date be used?

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) provides advice on surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They recommend not using face masks that are past their shelf life. However, if there is low supply and high demand, masks can be used by if they are past their shelf life if: 

  • the ear loops, ties or bands are intact 
  • there are no signs of visible damage, and 
  • they can be fit tested. 

 

Can I be directed to wear a face mask?

Yes, you can be directed to wear a face mask when at work if your employer, following consultation with you, considers it necessary to minimise the risk of you being exposed to the COVID-19 virus.  

The Australian Government Department of Health does not generally recommend the wearing of face masks by healthy people in the community. However, there may be occasions when it is recommended that the general public wear face masks where there is community transmission and physical distancing is difficult to maintain. The main benefit of wearing a mask is to protect other people. If the person wearing the mask is unknowingly infected, wearing a mask will also reduce the chance of them passing the virus on to others.

You can find information about the recommendations and directions about face masks from the Australian Government Department of Health and health authorities in your state or territory.

Your employer must provide you with training and instruction on how to wear, remove and dispose of the mask you are required to wear, including performing good hand hygiene (washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds) before fitting the mask and after taking it off. You must complete and comply with the training and instruction provided as far as reasonably practicable.  

You should talk with your employer if you have ongoing concerns or questions about the need to wear a face mask, including any suggestions for how your concerns might be alleviated. You can also seek advice from your health and safety representative or employee organisation. 

If your employer considers it necessary for you to wear a mask at the workplace, this will still need to be accompanied by other important control measures including good hygiene, environmental cleaning and physical distancing – keeping everyone at the workplace at least 1.5 metres physically apart. 

Can I be directed not to wear a mask?

Sometimes you may want to wear a mask even if it is an unnecessary control measure for your workplace. The Australian Government Department of Health does not generally recommend the wearing of face masks in the community. In many cases providing face masks as a measure against COVID-19 is recommended only for health care settings. However, there may be occasions when it is recommended that the general public wear face masks where there is community transmission and physical distancing is difficult to maintain.

You can be directed not to wear a mask at a workplace if it is lawful and reasonable for your employer to do so. This is determined on a case by case basis depending on the circumstances. However, if you are working in your own home and using your own masks, it would be unlikely that a direction not to wear a mask would be reasonable. Similarly, you are a frontline health worker, a direction of this kind would usually not be reasonable. 

This is a stressful time for all Australians, and you may want to wear a mask because you feel unsure or anxious about your health. You should discuss your concerns with your employer, your health and safety representative or employee organisation. It may be helpful to discuss the reasons why you want to wear a mask and the other effective control measures that your employer has put in place to minimise the risk of you being exposed to COVID-19.  If you are feeling your mental health is being impacted, you should also seek further support. 

What if I don’t want to wear a face mask?

If your employer has directed you to use a face mask and you have been consulted appropriately and provided with training and instruction, generally you must wear the face mask. 

Your employer will closely monitor the information provided nationally, and in your state or territory and ensure that any recommendations or directions in relation to the wearing of face masks are followed appropriately in the workplace.  You should talk with your employer about why you don’t want to wear a face mask. You can also seek advice from your health and safety representative or employee organisation. 

How do I put on, remove and dispose of a face mask?

If a face mask is going to be used at the workplace, your employer must provide you with instruction and training on how to use them safely. 

Instructions for effective use of a face mask will be provided by the manufacturer. You should always follow the instructions for use and storage of face masks. Disposable face masks should only be used once and then disposed of appropriately. They should also be replaced if they become soiled or damp. 

The manufacturer will provide details on how to put on and take off your face mask. If you do not have these, you can follow the instructions below. If you are also wearing gloves, you need to put your mask on before your gloves. 

The Australian Government Department of Health and the Victorian Government have issued guidance on cloth masks, including instructions on removal and cleaning.

How to put on a face mask

  1. Clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or hand sanitiser before touching the mask or removing it from its packaging. Dry your hands and make sure you do not touch any surfaces (like opening a door) before you handle your mask. 

  1. Remove the mask from its packaging and make sure the mask has no obvious tears, holes or faults. Avoid touching the front of the mask.

  1. Identify the top of the mask (generally it has a stiff bendable edge that will mould to the shape of your nose) and the front of the mask (normally a mask is coloured on the front with the white side towards your face. 

  1. If your mask has ear loops hold the mask by the ear loops and place a loop around each ear. 
    If your mask has ties bring the mask to nose level and place the ties over the crown of your head and tie with a bow (leave the bottom set of ties at this time). 

  2. If your mask has a band hold the mask in your hands with the nose piece or top of the mask at your fingertips, the headbands will hang loosely below your hands, then bring the mask to your nose level and pull the top strap over your head to rest on the crown of your head, then pull the bottom strap all the way over your head to rest at the nape of your neck. 

  3. Pinch the stiff nose piece to the shape of your nose. 

  4. If your face mask has ties take the bottom ties (one in each hand) and tie at the nape of your neck with a bow. 

  1. Adjust the bottom of the mask over your mouth and under your chin. 

How to remove a face mask

  1. Clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or hand sanitiser before touching the mask. Dry your hands and avoid touching the front of the mask. 

  2. If you are wearing gloves you should remove your gloves and wash your hands before removing your mask (see our information on gloves for how to remove your gloves). 

  3. Only touch the ear loops, ties or bands. 

  4. If your mask has ear loops hold both of the ear loops and gently lift and pull the mask away from you and away from your face. 

  5. If your mask has ties untie the bottom bow first (at the nape of your neck), then untie the top bow and pull the mask away from your face as the ties are loosened. 

  6. If your mask has bands lift the bottom strap over your head first, then pull the top strap over your head and pull the mask away from you and away from your face. 

  7. Appropriately dispose of the face mask (refer below).

  8. Clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or hand sanitiser. 

How to dispose of a face mask

Unless contaminated, masks can be disposed of with the general waste, preferably a closed bin. A closed bin is a bin with a fitted lid. 

Where the mask is contaminated it should be disposed of in a closed bin, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place a contaminated mask inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate. 

The bin for contaminated masks should contain two bin liners to ensure the waste is double bagged. Double bagging minimises any exposure to the person disposing of the waste.

A mask would be considered contaminated if it:

  • has been worn by a symptomatic worker or visitor to the workplace, or
  • has been worn by a close contact of a confirmed COVID case, or 
  • is visibly soiled or damp.  

Where a closed bin is not available, the contaminated mask should be placed in a sealed bag (e.g. a zip lock bag) before disposal into the bin. The sealed bag and a single bin liner are considered equivalent to double bagging.

It is important to follow good hand hygiene after removing and disposing of your mask. 

If you have a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, your state or territory health authority should provide you with advice on what you need to do in your workplace. Follow their instructions. 

For information about the disposal of masks in health care settings, you will need to refer to the Australian Government Department of Health and state and territory health authorities.

Can face masks that are past their shelf life date be used?

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) provides advice on surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

They recommend not using face masks that are past their shelf life. However, if there is low supply and high demand, masks can be used by if they are past their shelf life if: 

  • the ear loops, ties or bands are intact 
  • there are no signs of visible damage, and 
  • they can be fit tested. 

Infographic - Types and uses of face masks

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