The Ministry of Health has published this Wednesday a guide that companies must follow to impose or not the use of masks in the workplace. The document does not give specific indications of cases in which this protection measure must be maintained. It establishes that the decision on preventive measures, including the use of face masks, cannot be arbitrary but based "on information collected through the evaluation of the risk of exposure" that must be carried out by prevention services. And in this process "the workers will be consulted and their proposals will be considered," indicates the Ministry in the new document that updates the guide that already existed, adapting it to the most recent measures.
Keys to the end of masks: where and when should we continue to wear them?
Health marks what elements must be paid attention to in order to assess the situation: adequate ventilation, occupancy level, maintenance of an interpersonal distance of 1.5 meters, length of stay, activity, temperature and relative humidity conditions, the use of common spaces (changing rooms, dining rooms, etc.), shared means of private transport and the existence of vulnerable people in the workplace. In the process carried out by the prevention services "the opinion of managers, middle managers and representatives of the workers must be sought," the guide states.
As long as that evaluation has not been made, "the mask should not be imposed," according to the Workers' Commissions. “The rule is that use is not forced, if you do it you have to say why. For example, if the level of risk is high and there is no capacity to further separate the workers or we are indoors without ventilation," explains Carmen Mancheño, the union's Occupational Health coordinator, who predicts that the prevention services will be It has formed a backlog of requests in recent days that is delaying them. CCOO considers that "it would not make sense to give a general guideline" for all work centers because "the risk of each position must be evaluated". “In the same place there can be a healthy 25-year-old person, a pregnant woman or an immunosuppressed person,” she adds.
The CSIF union, the majority among officials, regrets that there has not been a "logical deadline for a better organization and risk assessment of each job when maintaining or not the use of masks" and points out as a consequence of this situation that the majority of public administrations have chosen to continue as they were on the first day. The union calls for "responsible use" in spaces where people transit or may spend a long time, such as citizen service offices.
In the private sector, large and small companies have sent instructions to their staff to maintain the use of the mask for the time being. For example, Stadler Valencia, a factory dedicated to trains, has extended the obligation for another month. Also Ford in the manufacturing plants of Valencia. Or Carrefour, at least on some surfaces in Madrid.
The document makes it clear that the use "is not mandatory" but includes within the "recommended" use vulnerable people who have prolonged contact with others being less than a meter and a half away. Health asks to be especially careful with these employees (elderly, sick or pregnant people) when evaluating the risk. The guide already established a case-by-case evaluation of workers with "special sensitivity in relation to coronavirus infection." "The existence or non-existence of conditions that allow the work to be carried out without raising the risk of the worker's health condition will be taken into account," recalls the Ministry.
The recommendation made by the technicians who advise the Ministry and the communities through the Alert Report was to continue using it if the work cannot be carried out with a distance of 1.5 meters between people and ventilation is not guaranteed, although it is not mention in the guide.
Health reminds companies that they must organize the work to minimize the risks, beyond the evaluation, "avoiding the massive coincidence of people in the work centers during the busiest periods". The guide continues to urge "to promote teleworking for the development of those activities whose nature allows it" and to assess "mixed" regimes for activities that do not require a "continuous presence".
This is especially relevant since the obligation to isolate in the case of a positive case with mild or asymptomatic symptoms has declined. The guide addressed to companies urges these workers to “extreme protection measures”, such as the use of a mask or hand washing, and to “avoid interaction with vulnerable people during the 10 days after the onset of symptoms”. The new strategy for the management and control of COVID-19 after the acute phase, which includes these changes, recommends teleworking in these circumstances.
The guide opens the door to relocate positives who work in vulnerable areas or care for people at risk in other "non-vulnerable" work areas, to telework, and "if all this is not possible" to stop going to the center from work within five days of the onset of symptoms. Afterwards, and as long as there are no symptoms in the last 24 hours, they will be given an antigen test. If the result is negative, they will be reincorporated.