COVID-19: The Use of Face Masks and Shields at Work

Woman wearing surgical mask Page Overview

The advice here is general. HSRs and workers in high-risk occupations are encouraged to contact their Union for more specific and detailed guidance regarding the PPE they need to be issued with.

This page is regularly reviewed and updated as further information becomes available and guidance is published.

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The Employer’s Duty – s21 & s23

The Employer has a duty, so far as is reasonably practicable, to provide a safe working environment for employees and ensuring that the general public is not exposed to risks arising out of the conduct of their business. This means implementing and regularly reviewing the controls in place to minimise the spread of COVID-19. The state of knowledge regarding COVID-19 is being constantly updated, and consequently what constitutes best practice is also evolving. Employers need to reflect whether controls currently implemented adequately discharge their legal obligations under the Act in light of new information, including the use of masks or appropriate face coverings.

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Duty to Consult – s35

When reviewing controls measures, and when making decisions about reviewing the need for and implementation of, new controls, the employer must consult with the elected HSRs and may also consult directly with employees.

This consultation around mask use needs to include particulars such as:

  • How does the mandatory wearing of masks outside the home affect the workplace? 
  • Are the controls currently in place working as intended?
  • Is the wearing of masks/face shields practicable at the workplace? Do they further reduce risk?
  • Who should wear them and when? Are there workers for whom the wearing of masks is not practicable (for example, the Premier suggested that this may be the case for call centre workers)
  • Does this control extend to non-employees who access the workspace?
  • What type of mask or face covering is most appropriate? (this includes consideration of disposable vs reusable masks; face shields)
  • From where will masks/face coverings be sourced?; and
  • What training, information and supervision need to be provided to employees?

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Next Steps

HSRs or employees who are concerned with the lack of a position concerning masks should:

  1. Contact their Union. Larger employers (e.g. Government departments) should already be working on how to incorporate mask use across the sector; and/or 

  2. Commence consultation with the employer around the implementation of masks in the workplace (see consultation above) 

  3. In the event that this consultation is unsuccessful on one or more particulars, an HSR may: 

    • Seek a resolution under s73 of the OHS Act with a representative of the employer who is an appropriate level of seniority 
    • choose to issue a PIN under s60 of the Act or consider whether a direction to cease work is appropriate under s74 of the OHS Act. 
    • Seek the assistance of the Union under s58(f)

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Please see the Victorian Government’s Face masks page for up-to-date guidance, including:

When to wear a face mask in Victoria

'We recommend wearing a mask:

  • for at least 7 days if you have COVID-19 and:
    • you need to leave home
    • you are indoors, or
    • you cannot maintain physical distance
  • if you are a close contact and you need to leave home
  • if you are visiting or working in a sensitive setting such as hospitals and aged care facilities

Coronavirus Hotline - 1800 675 398

Call the Coronavirus Hotline if you need help to report a rapid antigen test (RAT) or if you have any questions about COVID-19

The Victorian Coronavirus Hotline diverts to the National Coronavirus Helpline every night between 6pm and 8am'

Who needs to provide the appropriate face coverings in the workplace?

The duty to provide a safe working environment so far as is reasonably practicable rests with the employer; it is their primary duty to provide PPE. This also enables the employer to control factors such as the mask/face covering meeting Australian standards of quality and consistency. Where necessary, employers need to supply an adequate number of disposable, or several re-usable masks/face coverings. 

Part of assessing what is reasonably practicable is determined by the ability to source appropriate face coverings. In the event that these are unable to be sourced, in the short term it may be reasonably practicable for the employer to allow externally sourced masks (including home-made masks) as an alternative to no masks, but this is an unreliable way to control risk as the employer has ceded the ability to ensure that the masks are of the appropriate standard. Such controls should be phased out as soon as possible. (Note that while face coverings such as bandanas or scarves are accepted by the Victorian government as face coverings for the general public when outside the home, they are not suitable or appropriate for the workplace.)

In some employment settings, for example in health care, it may be necessary to wear both a mask and a face shield as this provides increased protection for the worker. 

The employer’s duty does not end with the obligation to provide face coverings, but includes providing instruction on how to properly put on and take off the face covering, ensuring a proper fit so that it is working as intended, and supervising its use. Employers should also ensure masks are properly laundered or disposed of as appropriate. See DHHS advice on Face Masks 

NOTE: if masks become damp or wet, they should not continue to be worn. Given that in Victoria masks/face coverings now need to be worn when on the way to work and from work, it is likely that workers using masks will need to have more than one mask, especially if the mask is a disposable one. It may be most practicable for workers to have their own masks for the journey to and from work, and for the employer to provide the masks necessary for use in the workplace. 


Last updated 15 December 2022