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Highland trading standards staff offer guidance on face masks


By Alan Hendry

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Trading standards staff at Highland Council have highlighted the important difference between types of face masks being used during the coronavirus crisis.

These are:

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical devices such as respirator or surgical masks which protect the wearer (and, for medical devices, the patient) against the virus and must be made to a high specification.
  • Face coverings which are not anti-Covid PPE or medical devices, including scarves and home-made versions made from items such as T-shirts or handkerchiefs. "These do not protect the wearer but can to some extent reduce the amount of virus that an infected person emits, thus providing some protection to others in proximity," according to the trading standards team.

David MacKenzie, the council's trading standards manager, said: “All PPE that is intended to protect against Covid-19, including that sold to the public, must meet very high safety standards. At the current time, it is recommended that proper face masks that provide such protection for the wearer should be reserved for NHS and care staff.

The recommendation from the Scottish and UK governments for the public to wear face coverings in some enclosed public places does NOT mean wearing proper anti-Covid PPE, trading standards staff point out.
The recommendation from the Scottish and UK governments for the public to wear face coverings in some enclosed public places does NOT mean wearing proper anti-Covid PPE, trading standards staff point out.

"The recommendation from both the Scottish and UK governments for the public to wear face coverings in some enclosed public places does NOT mean wearing proper anti-Covid PPE. Instead it refers to any low-specification face covering that can help reduce spread of the virus but does NOT protect the person wearing it.”

Mr MacKenzie said businesses must not sell low-tech face coverings as PPE or make any claims that such items provide protection for the wearer against coronavirus. According to trading standards, best practice at the present time is for businesses to explicitly state the limitations of such products when selling so that the buyer is in no doubt.

Trading standards' role in his regard is to enforce the laws on consumer sales, with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regulating sales of items to be used in workplaces, including the NHS.Detailed information about the production and sale of PPE to consumers can be found on the trading standards Covid-19 pages on the council website.

Mr MacKenzie added: “Scottish Government advice about staying at home, social distancing and washing your hands remain the same. It is important to understand that basic face masks will not protect wearers from biological hazards like Covid-19.

"If consumers really feel the need to buy proper PPE equipment to protect them from Covid, they should check carefully that it meets safety standards. Basic face masks can continue to be useful in other situations, such as protection against dust when doing some DIY work, and can also be used as a face covering in enclosed public spaces.”

Government advice on how to make a cloth face covering for your own use can be found here.


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