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Masks only effective if ‘everyone does it’ warn safety professionals

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Experience has taught us that we can’t guarantee people will behave responsibly to prevent Covid transmission such as by wearing masks, the chair of the British Safety Council has warned.


Responding to the news that all legal restrictions including masks and social distancing are to be scrapped from 19 July, the charity is urging the Government to re-think its policy position on masks.

It says that, given that cases are rising and the risks it presents to worker safety, mask wearing should not be a personal choice. 

Lawrence Waterman, Chairman of the British Safety Council, said: “To go from the controls put in place for the last 15 months to nothing overnight is a significant risk and particularly to UK workers. While we would all like to believe that everyone will act responsibly, experience shows us this is not guaranteed. There has been a fantastic level of public compliance with the rules, why go from collective protection to a free-for-all?”

“The Prime Minster himself has said caution is absolutely vital – if he truly believes this, then he should show leadership on the wearing of masks rather than take a leap of faith into the unknown that risks all the sacrifices and hard-won progress made since March 2020.”

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

The warning comes as the chief scientist in charge of modelling data on Covid hospital admissions and deaths, said that making masks optional weakens the protection they offer.

Speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme on 13 July, Graham Medley, chair of the SPI-M modelling group, said: “There is evidence to suggest that it does good, but only if everybody does it.”

“Without the [mandated approach] we end up in a situation where even if the majority – say 70 per cent wear a mask – will that do any good because of the 30 per cent who don’t? If it’s not mandated it probably won’t do any good.”

'Pandemic not over' 

Making his briefing on 12 July, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson urged people not to be ‘de mob happy’, but to exercise caution once restrictions are removed from next week.

“This pandemic is not over. This disease coronavirus continues to carry risks for you and for your family. We cannot simply revert instantly from Monday 19th July to life as it was before Covid.”

He said an ‘exit wave’ was inevitable. “We know we’re going to see more hospitalisations and more deaths from Covid.” But that unlocking had to happen at some point and summer was the best time to do it.

The latest paper from SPI-M says that the scale of infection in the coming months depends on unknowable factors including behaviour change.

“The scale of the next wave in hospital admissions is highly uncertain. While most modelled scenarios have peaks lower than in January 2021, a resurgence of this scale of hospitalisations cannot be ruled out,” says its summary paper issued on 7 July.

Employers urged to continue with Covid controls 

Commenting on the PM’s announcement, Duncan Spencer, IOSH’s Head of Advice and Practice, urged employers to help influence safe behaviours.

“Despite the relaxations, we encourage employers to ensure they continue to put in place preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of Covid-19 being transmitted in their workplaces,” he said.

“Risk assessments can help to identify proportionate controls to protect workers, clients, consumers and communities. With COVID risks, this might include a reasonable request for people to continue wearing face masks and observe social distancing measures. Employers might wish to emulate other socially conscious organisations by asking workers to test themselves regularly, including supplying them with lateral flow test kits.

“It is crucial that any preventative measures are communicated clearly, thereby empowering people to work safely while this disease remains a significant threat.”

NEWS


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