Network Rail is supplying surgical face masks to workers in its supply chain in a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus.
A message sent to firms in which the government-owned rail company said it “would like” all supply chain workers to wear the masks if they have to work within two metres of colleagues, though the usage is “not compulsory”.
The message added: “When used properly, a surgical face mask may protect against droplets containing the virus being transferred to others (via coughs, sneezes, talking or shouting) before symptoms start to show.” Anyone displaying symptoms should not be at work, it added.
Network Rail safety, technical and engineering director Martin Frobisher said in a statement: “Our priority is to keep our staff safe while they work to ensure we can continue to operate a safe and reliable railway for passengers whose journeys are essential, and to help transport goods such as medicines and food to hospitals and supermarkets.
“We are taking all necessary precautions to do this – for example, re-planning work to ensure social distancing can be adhered to wherever possible, reducing shared transport, staggering shift times and introducing segregation at sign-in points.
“In the limited circumstances where employees have to work within two metres of each other, we are providing face masks to protect any frontline worker who may not know they have the virus from spreading it.”
The company said its workers should follow other guidelines including regularly washing their hands, using hand-sanitiser and wearing appropriate PPE such as gloves. It has also introduced new rules to prevent people from congregating at work locations and break rooms.
Masks have become a source of debate in recent weeks, with some countries mandating their use by the population at large and others, including the UK, not supporting their widespread use. Health secretary Matt Hancock recently said overuse by the public could contribute towards shortages for healthcare workers. Network Rail issued a request to the UK Fashion and Textile Association two weeks ago for help in sourcing masks in a way that meant it would not disrupt supplies to the NHS.
The World Health Organisation recommends use of masks by healthy people only in cases where they are looking after those with a suspected COVID-19 infection. A recent guidance document issued by the UN agency said that use of masks by healthy people could reduce potential exposure to the virus during the “pre-symptomatic” period but warned it could also lead to a “false sense of security, leading to potentially less adherence to other preventive measures such as physical distancing and hand hygiene”.