In the face of a pandemic that has already killed 297,569 people worldwide (although that figure is likely to be significantly higher when you take into account excess mortality) the search for perfect scientific evidence when it comes to the wearing of face masks is the enemy of good policy. The Government has now said that people should aim to wear face coverings on public transport and in some shops and in other “enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and they come into contact with others that they do not normally meet”.

When it comes to face masks, the Government has always said that “we follow the science” but we know full well that there is no such thing as the “the science” because different scientists say different things depending on what day of the week it is. If we are to use our common sense then the wearing of face masks in public places seems unquestionably the right thing to do. Given we know that much of the transmission of the COVID-19 virus occurs before we show the symptoms, the wearing of face masks seems a fairly logical way of breaking the chain of transmission. A recent study published in the current edition of Nature Medicine showed that in the case of those with coronaviruses, 30% of droplets and 40% of aerosol particles exhaled by participants without a face mask contained virus particles. When they wore face masks, that dropped to zero. An experiment carried out by Public Health England found that a commercially made surgical mask filtered out 90% of virus particles from the air coughed out by participants, a vacuum cleaner bag filtered out 86%, a tea towel 72% and a cotton T-shirt 51%. In the absence of wearable vacuum cleaner bags the wearing of face masks seems an obvious thing to do!

Precautionary Principle

When it comes to the health and safety of its staff and customers, Lloyds should be adopting the precautionary principle when it comes to the use of face masks. The precautionary principle is an approach for dealing with potential harm when extensive scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking. On this important issue, the bank shouldn’t be hiding behind the Government. Equally, the cost of providing facemasks shouldn’t be a consideration at all. If TSB can afford to provide its staff with five cloth face masks, then Lloyds should be able to do the same. We are not asking for surgical masks or N95 respirators but simple face masks of the kind being used by most people.

In its latest advice on face masks, the Bank has said: “We have reviewed the latest guidance and obtained further advice from our chief medical officer. At this stage, we believe the social distancing measures we have in place in our offices and branches mean that we can maintain safe social distancing. As a result, our guidance remains unchanged and there is no requirement for colleagues or customers to wear face coverings in our properties”.

So, in a nutshell frontline staff can wear face coverings if they want but the bank is not going to provide them. That is simply unacceptable. Members can answer this simple question: If members of the GEC and the bank’s chief medical officer were required to spend one day a week on the frontline serving customers how long would it take for staff to be provided with face masks? Exactly!

Members with any comments or issues they would like us to deal should contact the Union’s Advice Team on 01234 262868 (choose Option 1).


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