The current advice from the Australian Government Department of Health is that most people will not benefit from wearing a face (surgical) mask. There is little evidence supporting the widespread use of masks in healthy people to prevent transmission in public. 

Face masks benefit people who are sick so they don’t cough on others, and can be an effective control measure for workplaces such as hospitals, medical centres or aged care facilities where workers have frequent, close contact with symptomatic people and might be exposed to respiratory substances (e.g. through coughs or sneezes). Face masks are also required for healthcare workers when carrying out particular clinical procedures or who collect respiratory samples for testing. Workers in these settings are specially trained in how to fit, use and dispose appropriately of masks to ensure so that they are safe to use. 

There may be other instances where face masks are appropriate. For example, in the cleaning industry if a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 is in the area that is to be cleaned (e.g. a hotel room). 

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 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

Go to further information for the health care industry.

Go to further information for the 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. Surgical masks are useful in limiting the spread of large particles from an infected person (such as cough spray). However, they are not designed to provide complete protection from airborne bacteria or virus particles.  

In most healthcare situations, a single use surgical mask is appropriate to provide to workers. In addition, surgical masks should be worn: 

  • 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) 
  • by any person who is travelling to self-isolation because of COVID-19. 

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

For COVID-19, the use of P2/N95 masks should only be used for certain healthcare procedures or where a patient has uncontrolled coughing. Further information for healthcare workers 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? 

The current advice from the Australian Government Department of Health is that most people will not benefit from wearing a face (surgical) mask. There is little evidence supporting the widespread use of masks in healthy people to prevent transmission in public. In many cases providing face masks as a measure against COVID-19 is restricted to healthcare settings.

If you decide that a surgical mask is appropriate to provide for workers, it is your responsibility to provide them. You must also provide appropriate training and instruction on how to put on, wear, remove and dispose of the mask. Fit testing 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. 

Can I direct a worker to wear a face mask?

You can direct a worker to wear a surgical mask if you, in consultation with those workers, considers it necessary to minimise the risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus. It is important to remember that the current advice from the Australian Government Department of Health is that most people will not benefit from wearing a face (surgical) mask. There is little evidence supporting the widespread use of masks in healthy people to prevent transmission in public. In many cases providing face masks as a measure against COVID-19 is restricted to healthcare settings.

Be aware that wearing a mask 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 after taking it off. Surgical masks also need to be maintained and replaced where necessary and stored correctly. This should be done in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Inappropriate or incorrect use of face masks may increase the risk of COVID-19.

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

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 physical distancing – keeping everyone at the workplace at least 1.5 metres physically apart. 

Can I direct a worker not to wear a mask? 

Some workers may want to wear a mask even though it does not offer protection, such as a surgical mask, and even if you decide that it is an unnecessary control measure. The current advice from the Australian Government Department of Health is that most people will not benefit from wearing a face (surgical) mask. There is little evidence supporting the widespread use of masks in healthy people to prevent transmission in public.

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, and in combination with other reasonably practicable, known control measures such as physical distancing – keeping everyone at the workplace at least 1.5 metres physically apart.

Can face masks that are past their expiry 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

Download as a PDF or JPEG Version.

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. Surgical masks are useful in limiting the spread of large particles from an infected person (such as cough spray). However, they are not designed to provide complete protection from airborne bacteria or virus particles.

In most healthcare situations, a single use surgical mask is appropriate to provide to workers. In addition, surgical masks should be worn: 

  • 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) 
  • by any person who is travelling to self-isolation because of COVID-19. 

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 minimise contamination.

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

For COVID-19, the use of P2/N95 masks should only be used for certain healthcare procedures or where a patient has uncontrolled coughing. Further information for health care workers 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 current advice from the Australian Government Department of Health is that most people will not benefit from wearing a face (surgical) mask. There is little evidence supporting the widespread use of masks in healthy people to prevent transmission in public.

If you decide that a surgical mask is appropriate for you and your workers, it is your responsibility to provide them. You must also provide appropriate training and instruction on how to put on, wear, remove and dispose of the mask. Fit testing 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. 

Can I direct a worker to wear a face mask?

You can direct a worker to wear a surgical mask if you, in consultation with those workers, considers it necessary to minimise the risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus. It is important to remember that the current advice from the Australian Government Department of Health is that most people will not benefit from wearing a face (surgical) mask. There is little evidence supporting the widespread use of masks in healthy people to prevent transmission in public. In many cases providing face masks as a measure against COVID-19 is restricted to healthcare settings.

Be aware that wearing a mask 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 after taking it off. Surgical masks also need to be maintained and replaced where necessary and stored correctly. This should be done in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. 

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

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 physical distancing – keeping everyone at the workplace at least 1.5 metres physically apart. 

Can I direct a worker not to wear a mask? 

Some workers may want to wear a mask even though it does not offer protection, such as a surgical mask, and even if you decide that it is an unnecessary control measure. The current advice from the Australian Government Department of Health is that most people will not benefit from wearing a face (surgical) mask. There is little evidence supporting the widespread use of masks in healthy people to prevent transmission in public.

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, and in combination with other reasonably practicable, known control measures such as 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. They should also be replaced if they become moist. 

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. 

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 before you get your mask (like opening a door). 

  1. Remove a 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).
    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. 

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

  3. 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 or removing it from its packaging. Dry your hands and avoid touching the front of the mask as it is a contaminated surface. 
    If you are wearing gloves you should remove your gloves and wash your hands before removing your mask (see below for how to remove your gloves). 

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

  3. Throw the mask in a sealed bin. Some masks must be disposed of in a biohazard bin if they have obvious contamination.  

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

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

Download as a PDF or JPEG Version.

Can I be directed to wear a face mask?

Yes, you can be directed to wear a surgical 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.  

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 though it will not offer real protection against the risk of COVID-19. The current advice from the Australian Government Department of Health is that most people will not benefit from wearing a face (surgical) mask. There is little evidence supporting the widespread use of masks in healthy people to prevent transmission in public.  

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 the direction 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. 

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 moist. 

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. 

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 before you get your mask (like opening a door). 

  1. Remove a 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). 
    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. 

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

  3. 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 or removing it from its packaging. Dry your hands and avoid touching the front of the mask as it is a contaminated surface. 
    If you are wearing gloves you should remove your gloves and wash your hands before removing your mask (see below for how to remove your gloves). 

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

  3. Throw the mask in a sealed bin. Some masks must be disposed of in a biohazard bin if they have obvious contamination.  

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

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

Download as a PDF or JPEG Version.

Can't find what you're looking for?

Please let us know.

Share this page:

Social

Print or Download Hairdressing pack

Employer
Small Business
Worker