Health bodies back value of wearing face masks in public

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Two workplace health bodies have given their support to the value of wearing face masks or coverings in public as the UK emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

The comments by the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) and the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) follow prime minister Boris Johnson saying this week that wearing face masks could be “useful” in helping to restore public confidence as the UK gradually comes out of lockdown, despite debate continuing about how valuable masks actually are in terms of preventing the spread of the virus.

Dr Robert Aitken, IOM chief executive, conceded that wearing face masks remained “a highly contentious issue” but added: “IOM believes that everyone outside their homes should wear non-medical face coverings such as bicycle masks, snoods and similar coverings.

“This will reduce the chance of infection from coughs and sneezes, both directly between people, and indirectly from droplet contamination of surfaces. This advice is particularly important in busy public spaces such as supermarkets, shopping centres and on public transport, including taxis,” he said.

In a statement, BOHS agreed there was still “much debate” about the issue. But it said: “We caution that widespread public use of face coverings may have unintended consequences such as giving a false sense of security with the effect of reducing diligence in observing hygiene and social distancing measures.

“Nevertheless, provided the parameters for recommending the use of face coverings in the public arena are clearly established and supported by good advice on use, BOHS would support such measures to help minimise exposure at source.”

However the society added: “We do not endorse the private use of respiratory protective equipment by the general public for personal use, except where it is to support people in situations of particular vulnerability.

“Such equipment only works well when it is properly fitted and used in combination with a management system and other personal protective and decontamination measures.”

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