Higher education institutions (HEIs) are now preparing for students and staff to safely return to campus in September. Staff and students from a variety of places and backgrounds may have differing opinions on the use of face masks and coverings.

Approaches to wearing masks and coverings vary between HEIs. Many are encouraging face mask use where safe distancing is not possible, but some HEIs are requiring staff and students to wear face masks.

As employers, all HEIs owe duties under health and safety legislation to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of employees. These duties extend to a safe working environment and not to expose them or others (including students) to unreasonable risk.

Current government advice and regulations state that face coverings must be used on public transport, when visiting hospitals and in shops. However, specific advice to those in an education setting states that the wearing of face coverings or face masks is not recommended.

HEIs should consider the use of face masks as part of their risk assessment. The assessment of risk should not be generic but should be specifically based on the needs and circumstances of each individual HEI, taking into account the demographic profile of its staff and students. Consideration should also be given to the views of staff, the student body and insurers, alongside general trends in the wider population and concerns that specific groups may have.

Practical Considerations

Whilst there is no general legal obligation to wear face masks or coverings in an HE setting, within their risk assessment some HEIs may choose to require face coverings to be worn on campus.

The following practical considerations should be taken into account when considering the implementation of a face covering policy:

  • Who should be required to wear face coverings?
  • Where should they be worn?
  • Who will provide and fund them?
  • How is the policy going to be enforced?

How We Can Help

We have prepared further detailed guidance regarding wearing of face masks and coverings which is available on our free, Higher Education OnStream platform.

We can also assist with preparation of risk assessments and provide bespoke advice relating to your coronavirus (COVID-19) queries and concerns.

Originally published 05 August, 2020

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.