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Guidance under regulation 20 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No.3) (Wales) Regulations 2020.

First published:
12 September 2020
Last updated:

Introduction

This guidance is issued under regulation 20 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 3) (Wales) Regulations 2020 (the “Coronavirus Regulations”). It is aimed at any person who is required by regulation 17 of the Coronavirus Regulations to:

  1. take all reasonable measures to ensure that a distance of 2 metres between all persons is maintained on particular premises;
  2. ensure that other reasonable measures are taken to minimise risk of exposure to the virus, in particular by limiting close face to face interaction and by improving hygiene; and
  3. provide information to those entering or working at the premises about how to minimise risk.

The regulations enable the Welsh Ministers to issue guidance on what is expected under regulation 17. Regard must be had to this guidance, and to any other guidance, codes of practice or other documents published by other bodies that are incorporated into this guidance.

The main guidance on the meaning of regulation 17 is published separately. This supplementary guidance focuses on the duties placed on the people listed above with regard to the wearing of face coverings at indoor premises for which they are responsible. It considers

  1. premises open to the public; and
  2. other premises.

It should be noted that it is also compulsory to wear a face covering on public transport in Wales.  The requirement applies to all enclosed public transport vehicles including buses, coaches, trains, trams, ferries and aircraft (where they take off or land in Wales). It also applies to taxis and to tourist services, such as mountain railways and excursion buses.  Employers and premises managers that also provide public transport services should therefore have regard to the guidance on the requirement to wear a face covering on public transport in Wales.

Premises open to the public

It is mandatory for anyone in Wales to wear a face covering in indoor premises that are open to the public. However, there is an exemption for those under the age of 11, and when anyone is seated and consuming food or drink on a premises.  (Where only part of a premises is available for consumption of food/drink, the requirement to wear a face covering will still apply in the other parts of the premises.)  The Regulations also provide that where a person has a reasonable excuse (examples of which are given) a face covering need not be worn. Read details of the reasonable excuses.

The precise locations at which face coverings regulations apply are indoor areas of any "premises to which the public have or may be permitted access", whether by payment or otherwise. This will include many different types of premises listed in Schedule 1 to the regulations, but no definitive list is provided and there are no exceptions.

The legal obligation for members of the public to wear face coverings is imposed on each individual and not on the managers of the premises. However, managers of premises do have some responsibilities with regard to the public, and they also have responsibilities with relation to staff and others working on the premises.

Responsibilities towards members of the public

With regard to members of the public, those responsible for premises have a role in explaining what the requirements are, and encouraging visitors to comply with the regulations and wear face coverings. Wearing face coverings should be regarded as an essential behaviour in indoor public places alongside other well-established behaviours. The Welsh Government hopes that people will understand the reasons for wearing face coverings and will do so. It is vital however that the new rules are explained to people and that they have an opportunity to comply.

In the first instance, the managers of premises open to the public should provide information to members of the public who may visit their premises. Examples of how such information should be provided include:

  • Websites maintained by the managers of the premises should carry specific information on wearing face coverings as part of the conditions of entering, and may provide links to other useful websites – for example, showing how to make a face covering and this guidance on how to wear a face covering properly
  • Notices advising members of the public of their legal obligation to wear face coverings should be displayed in a prominent place (in both Welsh and English, and other community languages as relevant) whenever feasible (and this is mandatory for transport operators)
  • Information may be given orally, or in written form. Managers should consider the most efficient way of ensuring that all customers are made aware of the requirement in the circumstances of the particular location
  • Managers will want to consider the diverse needs of visitors to their premises, and should consider whether the information should be made available in different formats, for example for people with sight or hearing impairment and, if necessary, in other languages.

You are entitled to remind customers of the law, but you should be sensitive to the fact that not all reasons why someone may be exempt are visible and obvious – for example mental health conditions, a requirement for lip reading, or impairments that are hidden. From experience in other countries where face coverings have been required earlier, we also know that survivors of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence sometimes find that wearing a mask triggers flashbacks to traumatic experiences, and if that applies to someone visiting your premises then this would also be a good reason not to wear a face covering.

Those who have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering should not be asked to give any written evidence of this. For example no person should be required to show a letter from a medical professional about their reason for not wearing a face covering.

Some people may feel more comfortable showing something that says they do not have to wear a face covering. This could be in the form of an exemption card, badge or even a home-made sign. A number of organisations such as transport operators have created cards that can be downloaded from their websites and printed.

However, this is a personal choice and is not necessary in law, and so operators should not require such cards to be carried.

Ultimately, the operator, an employee or a person authorised by the operator are not expected to take enforcement action. However, as outlined above, they have a role in explaining what the requirements are, and encouraging visitors and customers to comply with the regulations and wear face coverings.  Managers of premises have a general right to refuse entry if circumstances necessitate it, and they can call the police to report issues of antisocial behaviour. 

Responsibilities towards staff and volunteers  

Staff working in areas of indoor premises which are open to the public are also required by law to wear face coverings while they are in those areas (again, with some limited circumstances in which particular individuals are excepted or in which coverings can be removed).

Employers should ensure that their staff are aware of these requirements, and the limited exceptions to them – such as that staff may remove their face coverings temporarily if they are are asked to do so by someone who will otherwise find it difficult to communicate with them. While the primary responsibility to wear a face covering lies with the staff member, who can ultimately be subject to criminal action, employers should also make every effort to ensure that all staff in areas open to the public comply with the law.

In premises which are only partly open to the public, face coverings are not mandatory in those parts which are not open to the public. This would, for example, cover those parts of shops, gyms or museums which are only for staff. Instead, employers should follow the approach set out in the section below.

Premises which are not open to the public ("other premises")

Indoor premises which are not open to the public will vary widely, and so it is not currently judged proportionate to require the wearing of face coverings in all such premises (for example, where individuals do not come into close contact with others). However, where social distancing cannot be maintained, the risk will be similar to those areas open to the public, and so the Welsh Government considers that employers and others responsible for premises in Wales should generally, as a reasonable measure, also require face coverings to be worn by staff and visitors to their premises in indoor areas where social distancing cannot be maintained.

This should be done unless there are good reasons to the contrary – as for example might be the case in schools or childcare settings, which would be expected to build on existing guidance.

Limited exceptions to this can also be made, which should reflect the exceptions that exist for the requirement to wear face coverings in public places.

Where employers do require their staff or visitors to their premises to wear face coverings in areas that are not open to the public, they should ensure that their staff and visitors are aware of these requirements, and the limited exceptions to them. In doing so they should be sensitive to the fact that not all reasons why someone may be exempt are visible and obvious – for example mental health conditions, or impairments that are hidden.

What parts of premises are “open to the public”?

Individual managers of premises will have to make judgements in their own circumstances, but the following examples may be of assistance:

  • If two delivery personnel work together in a warehouse, this is not a public area and so the wearing of face coverings is not mandatory unless the business determines that it is a reasonable measure to comply with their duty to minimise exposure. This is in turn likely to depend on whether social distancing can be continually maintained.
  • Staff working in an office – coverings will be mandatory in any spaces on the premises that are open to the general public, such as a reception area if anyone can walk in. They will not be mandatory on the office floor, unless the business determines that it is a reasonable measure to comply with their duty to minimise exposure. This is in turn likely to depend on whether social distancing can be maintained.
  • A plumber or other tradesperson undertaking work in someone’s home – coverings will not be mandatory unless they determine that it is a reasonable measure to comply with their duty to minimise exposure. This is in turn likely to depend on whether social distancing can be maintained.
  • Staff working in a grocery shop – coverings will be mandatory for staff on the shop floor, and customers. They will not be mandatory in back offices/storage facilities unless the business determines that it is a reasonable measure to comply with their duty to minimise exposure. Again, this is in turn likely to depend on whether social distancing can be maintained.

Staff who are effectively separated from customers by something like a Perspex screen, for example at a till, are also not in a public area. However, if there is more than one member of staff working behind the perspex screen and social distancing cannot be maintained, you would be expected to require the use of face coverings unless there was a good reason not to.

Enforcement

As the requirements on employers and others set out in this guidance are considered “reasonable measures” under regulation 17 of the Coronavirus Regulations, they are subject to the specific enforcement regime established for that regulation.

The Welsh Government expects that businesses and others understand the severity of the situation we are facing as a society and will take the reasonable steps necessary. However, one reason why the Welsh Government has decided to go beyond guidance and include a duty in law is so that enforcement is possible, where it is necessary.

Both the police and local authorities have powers to enforce the requirements on businesses, services and workplaces imposed by the regulations.

Separate guidance is available on the approach that is expected to be taken to enforcement of the regulations, which is designed to:

  • promote and maintain sustained compliance as a preventative measure to help contain the coronavirus;
  • ensure action is taken immediately to deal with situations in which there is a risk of coronavirus spreading; and
  • ensure that those who fail to comply are held to account.

Frequently asked questions from employers

Can my staff wear a visor instead of a face covering?

In the context of the requirements imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic a visor or face shield is not a face covering. It is made of waterproof material, fits loosely over the eyes and extends down such that it may lie over but not cover the nose and mouth. It cannot fit snugly around the nose and mouth as it could impair breathing and may fog. The effectiveness of visors and face shields is unknown at present. They are worn in clinical/care giving settings to protect against large droplet exposure, including by inoculation through the eyes, but when worn outside these settings there is no evidence that face shields/visors protect the wearer or are an effective source control for either larger droplets or small aerosols. 

We appreciate that some people speak for a living (such as someone leading worship) and have difficulty making themselves heard when wearing other types of face covering. However, visors are designed to protect the eyes from airborne droplets and are not as effective as face coverings, so extra precautions must be taken when using only using visors for speaking purposes. If this is not possible a face covering should be worn.   

What do I do if a customer or visitor to my premises refuses to wear a face covering?

A premises operator, or their employees or a person authorised by the operator are not expected to take enforcement action. However, they have a role in explaining what the requirements are, and encouraging visitors and customers to comply with the regulations and wear face coverings. You should request that customers or visitors wear a face covering or ask that they confirm if they have a reasonable excuse not to. Those who have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering should not be asked to give any written evidence of this. Managers of premises have a general right to refuse entry if circumstances necessitate it, and they can call the police to report issues of antisocial behaviour.

After my premises is closed to customer or visitors, are my employees able to remove their face coverings?

Not necessarily no. During the period in which your premises is closed to the public, if work continues to take place on your premises then the Welsh Government considers that, if physical distancing cannot be maintained between staff that are working, you should, as a reasonable measure under the Coronavirus Regulations, require them to wear a face covering.

The nature of my premises means that my employees may need to wear a face covering is some areas and not in others.  Should I require them to wear them in all areas?

Not necessarily no. If closer working is required in parts of your premises but physical distancing can be maintained in other parts of the premises then you are not required to mandate that staff wear face coverings in all parts of your premises.  We would encourage you to discuss the practicalities with your staff.  

If staff are able to remove face coverings in certain parts of your premises (because physical distancing can be maintained) then you should support them to do so safely.

This means reminding them of the following:

  • Wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds, (or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser) and dry thoroughly before putting a face covering on, and after removing it.
  • When wearing a face covering, avoid touching their face or the face covering as they could contaminate it with germs from their hands.
  • To not hang a face covering from the neck or pull down from the nose
  • Change their face covering if it becomes damp or damaged.
  • Wash their hands regularly.
  • Change and wash or discard (as applicable) their face covering daily.  
  • If the material is washable, wash in line with manufacturer’s instructions. 
  • After wearing a reusable face covering, it should be placed inside a plastic bag prior to it being washed to prevent onwards contamination from the used face covering.
  • If it is not washable, dispose of it carefully in the usual waste and help keep Wales tidy.
  • Practicing social and physical distancing and frequent and thorough washing of hands is the most effective way of reducing the transmission of coronavirus.

Are face coverings a form of personal protective equipment (PPE)?

No. Face coverings are not classified as PPE, which can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses.  
Where you are required to use PPE in your work activity to protect against non-coronavirus risks, you should continue to do so and must be provided free of charge to workers who need it and must fit properly.

When managing the risk of coronavirus, additional PPE, beyond what you usually wear, is not recommended. This is because coronavirus is a different type of risk to the risks you normally face in a workplace, and needs to be managed through physical distancing and increased hygiene, not by using PPE. Unless you are in a situation where the risk of coronavirus transmission is very high, your risk assessment should reflect the fact that the role of PPE in providing additional protection to coronavirus is extremely limited.

More information on PPE in Wales.

Information on different types of face covering, and how to store them and dispose of them safely.

Does wearing a face covering remove the need for physical distancing and other measures to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus?

No. Because face coverings are mainly intended to protect others, not the wearer, from coronavirus, they are not a replacement for physical distancing and other measures you may need to take to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus on your premises.  You must continue to do everything reasonably possible to keep everyone 2m apart and implementing other precautions, including minimising time spent in contact, using fixed teams and partnering for close-up work, ensuring good respiratory hygiene, regular and thorough hand hygiene and increasing surface washing. These other measures remain the best ways of managing risk of exposure to coronavirus in the workplace. The Welsh Government would therefore not expect to see employers relying solely on face coverings as risk management for the purpose of their COVID-19 risk assessments. 

We are a very small business and although our reception area is open to callers, we don’t have many visitors.  Does the requirement on indoor public spaces apply to us?

Yes. If an area is open to the public then all staff and visitors passing through it must wear face coverings whenever they are in that area. 

I own a business, how can I help reduce waste from single use face coverings?

You can:

  • provide extra bins for your staff and customers to throw away single use face coverings, any other PPE and any other additional waste, such as takeaway packaging and disposable tableware
  • make sure staff and customers do not put single use face coverings and PPE into the recycling bin as they cannot be recycled in conventional recycling facilities
  • make sure bins are emptied often so they do not overflow and create litter
  • make your staff aware of this advice in case they have questions about PPE

You do not need to provide special bins for clinical or hazardous waste.  Ordinary rubbish bins are sufficient for disposal of used face coverings. You do not need to arrange collection of PPE separately but, if you do, you must describe and code your waste correctly.

Ask your waste contractor if there is anything else you need to do.