This page provides information about your obligations under the model WHS laws and how these relate to the use of masks in the workplace. This information will assist you to assess whether the use of masks for your workers, including contractors and labour-hire, is a reasonably practicable control measure to manage the risks of COVID-19 at work.

You will need to review this assessment from time to time.

The use of masks is only one control measure for COVID-19 that may be required under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws for your workplace. You must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace such as encouraging vaccination, physical distancing and good hygiene to minimise the risks from COVID-19. Further information on other control measures is provided on this page.

In addition to your obligations under the model WHS laws, you must also comply with any public health orders or directions made by governments that apply to you and your workplace. This guidance does not affect any obligations you may have regarding the use of masks that apply under public health orders and directions.

This guidance does not change, remove or reduce any existing rights or obligations under the model WHS laws.

As Victoria has not adopted the model WHS laws, this guidance is not applicable to Victoria. Up-to-date guidance applicable to responding to COVID-19 in Victorian workplaces can be found on the WorkSafe Victoria website

Masks as a control for COVID-19

Employers have a duty under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to eliminate risks, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. The hierarchy of control measures, ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest level of protection, is one way to eliminate and minimise the risks of COVID-19. In the hierarchy of control measures masks are a low-level control measure as they rely on human behaviour and supervision to ensure that the masks are worn and used to help minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Some states and territories have issued public health directions that require masks to be worn for specific activities and in certain workplaces. If public health directions are made, you must follow them. 

Wearing masks helps prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. If the person wearing the mask is unaware that they are infected with COVID-19 virus, wearing a mask will reduce the chances of them passing the virus on to others. Masks can also protect people from inhaling the virus. 

Masks can be a critical part of protecting against COVID-19. However, even if your workers use masks, to ensure you meet your duties under the model WHS laws and to minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, you must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures, such as:

  • encouraging or ensuring up to date vaccination, where applicable,
  • ensuring your workers do not come to work when unwell,
  • improving air quality,
  • practising physical distancing and adhering to density limits (check occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards),
  • relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace, off-site or supporting workers to work from home,
  • practising good hygiene,
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance,
  • staggering your workers’ start, finish and break times, and
  • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close contact, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces.

When deciding how to control the risks of COVID-19, employers have a duty to consult with workers and any Health and Safety Representatives about how to use control measures to manage the risks. This includes having administrative workplace policies and procedures related to the use of masks. 

If you have a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, your state or territory health authority can provide you with advice on what you need to do. Follow their instructions. More information about COVID-19 incident notification in the workplace is on the Safe Work Australia website.

Risk Assessment

Under the model WHS laws, employers have a duty to manage the health and safety risks, so far as reasonably practicable, in the workplace. You should always aim to eliminate risks. If you can’t eliminate the risks of COVID-19, you must minimise the risks so far is reasonably practicable. This requires a risk assessment to identify what type of reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measure, such as masks, are needed to protect workers from exposure to the COVID-19 virus. The use of masks will be based on determining the risks of becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus and the type of mask best suited to minimise the risks of COVID-19 for your workplace. 

The use of masks in the workplace to manage the risks of COVID-19 may not be the same for all businesses and will depend on a range of factors, including whether public health directions apply (e.g. use of masks), the type of business, the level of customer interaction, the level of community transmission of the virus in the geographic area, business layout (including ability to physical distance) and worker demographics (e.g. people at higher risk of COVID-19 illness). 

You must consult with workers and any Health and Safety Representatives when identifying the risks and when proposing the use of masks as a control measure. Remember that prolonged use of masks in the workplace may cause physical discomfort, heat-related illnesses and psychological risks that should be considered in your risk assessment and consultation with workers.

More information about controlling the risk of heat-related illnesses can be found in Safe Work Australia’s guide on Managing the risks of working in heat.

A risk assessment will assist you to:

  • identify which workers are at risk of COVID-19,
  • determine what sources and processes are causing the risk of COVID-19, 
  • identify the control measures that are required to minimise the risk of COVID-19, which may include masks, and
  • check the effectiveness of your control measures. 

You must review your workplace risk assessment and control measures periodically, including when new COVID-19 variants emerge and/or as your workplace situation changes, to ensure their ongoing appropriateness and effectiveness based on the latest advice from your state or territory health department and Australian Health Protection Principal Committee

Even if wearing a mask is no longer required under public health directions, you still have a duty to review the risks and implement all control measures that are required to ensure the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace are minimised so far as is reasonably practicable. This may mean you continue to require masks to be worn in your workplace. 

More information is available about how to prepare a risk assessment on the Safe Work Australia website.

Types of masks

Wearing masks helps prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. If the person wearing the mask is unaware that they are infected with COVID-19 virus, wearing a mask will reduce the chances of them passing the virus on to others. 

Masks and respirators provide the wearer with differing levels of protection from inhaling the virus. It is important to understand the different type of masks and the level of protection they provide, to ensure you use the appropriate mask for your workplace setting. 

Cloth and utility masks are not medical grade masks and provide the wearer the least protection from viruses carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols. However, they can still help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. 

Surgical masks are medical grade masks that must comply with the relevant national standards (or equivalent). They are graded as level 1, 2 and 3 based on the level of protection, or fluid resistance, they provide the wearer. Surgical masks help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus and provide greater protection from infection for the wearer.

P2/N95 respirator masks that are designed for medical use must comply with the relevant national standards (or equivalent). They are required when there is a high-risk of exposure to body fluids, respiratory droplets and aerosols in higher-risk workplace settings such as health care, aged care and disability sectors, quarantine, police and security.

Surgical and P2/N95 respirator masks for medical use are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your surgical or P2/N95 respirator mask is approved for medical use.

P2/N95 masks intended for non-medical purposes, such as in construction and other industrial workplace settings, are not medical grade and are not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

For more information and guidance about using masks in health and aged care settings can be found on the Infection Control Expert Group and Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care websites. 

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has also published advice and recommendations for health care professionals on the use of surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and the types of face masks that are regulated as medical devices

For further information see our Comparison of mask types for COVID-19 web page.

What are cloth masks? How should they be used?

A cloth mask is a non-sterile, reusable mask covering the nose and mouth to create a physical barrier between the wearer and the environment. Cloth masks are not medical grade masks and are not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. When cloth masks are properly constructed and fitted correctly, they help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. They may also provide some protection to the wearer from inhaling the virus.

A cloth mask can be made with one type or a combination of fabrics including washable woven and non-woven fabrics such as cotton, cotton/synthetic blends, polyesters and breathable, spun bond polypropylene. The effectiveness of a cloth mask to prevent spreading respiratory droplets will vary, depending on the thickness of the weave and the number of layers. They should be properly constructed with the appropriate fabrics and have a minimum of three layers

A scarf or bandana or any other single layer cloth mask does not provide effective protection from spreading the COVID-19 virus and is not recommended.

Cloth masks can be purchased from pharmacies, supermarkets, retail and online suppliers or homemade

Cloth masks are not recommended for high-risk COVID-19 settings but may be suitable for indoor or outdoor settings where there is a low-risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus. 

How to put on a cloth mask

  • Before putting on the mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Hold the mask by the side straps and place a loop around each ear.
  • Put the mask over your mouth, nose and chin.
  • Check there are no gaps on the sides of the mask.
  • Check the ear loops do not cross-over as this widens the gap between the face and mask.
  • Avoid touching and adjusting the front of the mask. This can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Avoid using the same mask continuously throughout the day.
  • Replace your mask regularly and when it becomes visibly soiled or feels damp. 

How to remove a cloth mask

  • Before touching and removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Always use the side straps when removing the mask. 
  • Lean forward, lift the side straps over the ears and pull the mask away from your face.
  • Store used dry cloth masks in a clean plastic bag.
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask as this can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • After removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Wash used cloth masks once a day.

Do not reuse a cloth mask the next day unless it has been washed.

Cloth masks should be washed once a day in the washing machine (water temperature at least 60 degrees), or handwashed using soap and the warmest appropriate water setting for the cloth. Dry the cloth mask in the clothes dryer or in fresh air. Store in a clean plastic bag. 

The Australian Government Department of Health has instructions on how to make your own cloth face mask, and how to wear and wash them.

What are utility masks? How should they be used?

A utility mask is a non-sterile, single use mask covering the nose and mouth to create a physical barrier between the wearer and the environment but does not achieve a close seal to the wearer’s face. When utility masks are fitted correctly, they help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. A utility mask looks similar to a surgical mask, however, utility masks are not medical grade masks and not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. They may also provide some protection to the wearer from inhaling the virus, although the level of protection may not be that of a surgical mask.

Utility masks can be purchased from pharmacies, supermarkets, and online suppliers.

How to put on a utility mask

  • Before putting on the mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Check that the mask does not have tears, holes and the straps are not broken.
  • Identify the top of the mask (has a metal strip).
  • Hold the mask by the side straps and place a loop around each ear.
  • Put the mask over the mouth, nose and chin with the metal strip on the top of the nose.
  • Check there are no gaps between the face and mask.
  • Check the ear loops do not cross-over as this widens the gap between the face and mask.
  • Squeeze the metal strip across the top of the nose to create a seal.
  • Avoid touching and adjusting the front of the mask. This can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Avoid using the same mask continuously throughout the day. 
  • Replace your mask regularly during the day (every 3 to 4 hours) or when it becomes visibly soiled or feels damp. 

How to remove a utility mask

  • Before touching and removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Always use the side straps when removing the mask. 
  • Lean forward, lift the side straps over the ears and pull the mask away from your face.
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask as this can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Dispose the used mask immediately into a closed bin.
  • After removing and disposing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

What are surgical masks? How should they be used?

A surgical mask is a non-sterile, single use, medical grade mask regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration that covers the mouth and nose but does not achieve a close seal to the wearer’s face. They can help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus to others

The Therapeutic Goods Administration advises that surgical masks do not provide the wearer complete protection from viruses in airborne droplets. However, they can help protect the wearer from splashes, large droplets and aerosols reaching their mouth or nose.

Surgical masks have different grades of filtration that must comply with the Australian Standards 4381:2015 and/or equivalent international standards. They are graded as level 1, 2 or 3 based on the level of protection and fluid resistance. The grading level would be clearly labelled on the packaging. Level 1 surgical masks are acceptable for general use/patient care and level 2 or 3 surgical masks are used when there is a higher risk of exposure to body fluids. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for surgical masks. This has resulted in poorly made and non-compliant masks entering the Australian market. See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your surgical mask is approved for medical use.

Surgical masks are available for purchase at pharmacies, supermarkets, and online suppliers, including manufacturers and suppliers of scientific equipment.

When using a surgical mask, ensure you always follow the manufacturer’s instruction for use. If you do not have these, see the general instructions below for how to put on a surgical mask.

How to put on a surgical mask 

  • Before putting on the mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser (or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Check that the mask does not have tears, holes and the straps are not broken.
  • Identify the top of the mask (has a metal strip) and the inside of the mask (usually the white side) towards the face. If available, read the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Hold the mask by the ear loops and place a loop around each ear.
  • Put the mask over the mouth, nose and chin with the metal strip on the top of the nose.
  • Check there are no gaps between the face and mask.
  • Check the ear loops do not cross-over as this widens the gap between the face and mask.
  • Squeeze the metal strip across the top of the nose to create a seal.
  • Avoid touching and adjusting the front of the mask. This can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Avoid using the same mask continuously throughout the day. 
  • Replace your mask regularly during the day (every 3 to 4 hours) or when it becomes visibly soiled or feels damp. 

How to remove a surgical mask

  • Before touching and removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Always use the side straps when removing the mask. 
  • Lean forward, lift the side straps over the ears and pull the mask away from your face.
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask as this can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Dispose the used mask immediately into a closed bin.
  • After removing and disposing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

What are respirator masks? How should they be used?

A respirator mask is a P2/N95 (or equivalent) medical grade mask that provides protection against airborne contaminants such as viruses and bacteria in aerosols or respiratory droplets. P2/N95 medical grade respirator masks must meet the Australian/New Zealand Standards 1716:2021 and/or equivalent international standards and are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

P2/N95 respirators should form a very close seal around the nose and mouth and are recommended for use in high-risk workplace settings such as health care and quarantine sites.

Surgical P2/N95 respirators must meet the same performance requirements as a standard P2/N95 respirator but also meet the Standards for fluid resistance against bodily fluids, which may occur during high-risk medical procedures. Surgical P2/N95 respirators are also regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your P2/N95 respirator or surgical P2/N95 respirator is approved for medical use.

It is essential that a P2/N95 respirator is properly fitted to the wearer’s face by performing a fit test and fit check. 

Fit testing

The purpose of a P2/N95 respirator fit test is to match the correct size and style of the respirator to the individual. Fit testing of a P2/N95 respirator masks must be done in accordance with Australian/New Zealand Standard 1715:2009 and should be repeated each time a new style of P2/N95 respirator is used. A fit test can be carried out by a competent person, manufacturer, supplier, or service provider. A correct facial seal ensures that the respirator fits the individual’s face without gaps between the skin and the respirator that could allow respiratory particles to bypass the filter.

Fit testing methods are either:

  • Qualitative - relies on the individual’s ability to taste or smell a test agent. The chosen respirator should fit snugly on the face to create a seal, which can be checked by gently inhaling and exhaling. If the mask is not drawn towards the face, or there are air leaks around the face seal or nose, readjust the mask and repeat the fit test until no leaks can be felt.
  • Quantitative - requires using specialised equipment used by a trained operator to measure how much air leaks into the respirator.

Facial hair, including a 1-2-day beard growth, can affect the seal between the respirator and the wearer’s face. The face must be smooth and/or clean shaven to achieve a tight seal. NSW Health has published more information about facial hair and respirator fit.

The Infection Control Expert Group advises that a fit test does not guarantee that the chosen P2/N95 respirator will not leak during future use because of changes in facial shape. Therefore, a fit check should be done each time it is used. 

Fit checking

A fit check ensures the P2/N95 respirator fit the individual’s face snugly against the skin, creating a seal to minimise exposure to airborne biological particles. A fit check should be carried out each time a P2/N95 respirator is worn by gently inhaling. If the mask is not drawn in towards the face, or air leaks around the face seal, readjust the mask and repeat process or check for defects in the mask.

If available, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to carry out a fit check.

More information about P2/N95 respirators is available on the Infection Control Expert Group website.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for P2/N95 respirators for medical use. This has resulted in fake or non-compliant P2/N95 respirators entering the Australian market. See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your P2/N95 respirator is approved for medical use.

Read SafeWork NSW’s and WorkSafe Qld’s alerts about what to check to ensure that P2/N95 respirator meet the required standards and what to do if you come across one that is not fit for purpose.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has published guidance about face masks and respirators that are regulated in Australia.

P2/N95 respirators for medical use are available from online suppliers, including manufacturers and suppliers of scientific equipment. 

How to put on a P2/N95 respirator mask

  • Before putting on the mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser (or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Only touch the outer edges of the mask.
  • Separate the edges and straps.
  • Check that the mask does not have tears, holes and the straps are not broken.
  • Identify the nose piece (has a metal strip). If available, read the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Slightly bend the nosepiece to form a gentle curve.
  • Hold the two headbands in your fingers and position the mask under your chin with the nose piece up.
  • Pull the headbands over the top of your head. The top strap should sit high at the back of the head and the bottom strap positioned below the ears. 
  • Using both hands, press down on the metal strip to the shape of your nose to create a seal.
  • The mask over the mouth, nose and chin with the metal strip on the top of the nose.
  • To check for a positive seal, exhaling sharply to ensure there are no leaks around the mask. If there are leaks, adjust the position of the mask and straps for a tighter fit.
  • To check for a negative seal, inhale deeply to ensure the mask is pulled towards your face. If there are leaks, adjust the position of the mask and straps for a tighter fit.
  • Avoid touching and adjusting the front of the mask. This can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Avoid using the same mask continuously throughout the day. 
  • Replace your mask regularly during the day or when it becomes visibly soiled or feels damp. 

How to remove a P2/N95 respirator mask

  • Before touching and removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Always use the side straps when removing the mask. 
  • Lean forward, lift the straps over the ears and pull the mask away from your face.
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask as this can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Dispose the used mask immediately into a closed bin.
  • After removing and disposing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

Queensland Health has published an infographic on how to fit a P2/N95 mask.

Do I need to provide masks to workers?

Following a risk assessment and consultation with your workers, if you determine that masks are a reasonably practicable control measure to minimise the risks of COVID-19, then you must provide them to your workers.

However, COVID-19 public health directions can be issued by governments for workplaces to wear face masks. If so, you must provide them to your workers. It is important that you keep up to date with the public health directions that apply in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace.

The Australian Government Department of Health has published information on when masks should be worn in the community and general COVID-19 information on face masks and who should use them

If your workers are required to wear masks, you must provide them. Single use masks, disposable masks (e.g. utility and surgical masks) or properly constructed cloth masks may be used. You must provide appropriate training and instruction on how to put on, wear, remove, clean and maintain (as necessary) or dispose of the mask. Information about using a mask would be provided by the manufacturer. Checking that the mask forms a close fit with the face is very important to ensure that the mask used is effective. In some workplace settings, a risk assessment may identify that a P2/N95 respirator is required to minimise the risk to the COVID-19 virus. If a P2/N95 respirator is required, it must be approved for medical use and users must be trained in the correct method of fitting, fit testing, fit checking and removing of P2/N95 respirators. If a worker has been provided training and instruction about using a mask, they must comply with that training and those instructions. 

For further information see our Comparison of mask types for COVID-19 web page.

Can I direct a worker to wear a mask?

You can direct a worker to wear a mask if you, in consultation with those workers, decide it is necessary to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Be aware that the inappropriate or incorrect use of masks may increase the risk of COVID-19 and may result in new work, health and safety risks. Workers required to wear a mask must be trained in how to wear, remove and dispose of masks, including performing good hand hygiene (washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol) before fitting the mask, and before and after taking it off. Masks need to be replaced frequently and for re-usable cloth masks stored correctly between uses. 

You will need to ensure that appropriate facilities are provided if masks are used at the workplace. This includes appropriate hand washing or sanitising facilities and a closed bin to dispose of used disposable masks.

Single use, disposable masks may be a good option for most workplaces. However, properly constructed cloth masks may be considered if they are replaced frequently, and appropriate laundering arrangements are in place. Single use masks should not be washed and reused.

What else must I do to protect workers?

Masks alone will not provide complete protection from exposure to COVID-19. To meet your duties under the model WHS laws and minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, you must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures such as:

  • encouraging or ensuring up to date vaccination, where applicable,
  • ensuring your workers do not come to work when unwell,
  • improving air quality,
  • practising physical distancing and adhering to density limits (check occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards),
  • relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace, off-site or supporting workers to work from home,
  • practising good hygiene,
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance,
  • staggering your workers’ start, finish and break times, and
  • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close contact, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces.

How do I put on and remove a mask?

If a mask (single use or cloth mask) is going to be used at the workplace you must provide workers with instruction and training on how to use them safely. If workers are also wearing gloves, they will need to put their mask on before their gloves. 

It is important to be mindful of how you put on, remove and dispose (e.g. single use mask) or store (e.g. cloth mask) your mask. Your mask may have been contaminated with the COVID-19 virus carries in respiratory droplets and aerosols. This is when you could accidently infect yourself or others.

When using masks, you should:

  • Have a consistent sequence so that this can become routine.
  • Take your time, don’t rush.
  • Always perform hand hygiene prior to putting on, after removing, and disposing or storing your mask.
  • Ensure your mask avoids contact with other surfaces when disposing or storing.

Follow all instructions for effective use of the mask that is provided by the manufacturer. If you do not have these, see instructions for how to use a:

How to dispose of single use masks?

Single use, disposable masks can be disposed of with the general waste, preferably into a closed bin containing two bin liners to ensure the waste is double bagged. Double bagging minimises any exposure to the person disposing the waste. 

A closed bin is a bin with a fitted lid, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place the mask inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate. Where a closed bin is not available, masks should be placed in a sealed bag before disposal into the bin. The sealed bag and a single bin liner are considered equivalent to double bagging. 

It is important to follow good hand hygiene after removing and disposing of your masks. Hands should be washed with soap and water for 20 seconds or cleaned with alcohol-based hand sanitiser containing at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol. 

For information about the disposal of masks in health care settings, you will need to refer to the Australian Government Department of Health and state and territory health authorities.

Can masks that are past their shelf-life date be used?

The Therapeutic Goods Administration provides advice on surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and recommends not using surgical masks that are past their shelf life. However, if there is low supply and high demand, these masks can be used if they are past their shelf life if: 

  • the ear loops, ties or bands are intact, and
  • there are no signs of visible damage.

Further Information

This page provides information about your obligations under the model WHS laws and how these relate to the use of masks in the workplace. This information will assist you to assess whether the use of masks for your workers, including contractors and labour-hire, is a reasonably practicable control measure to manage the risks of COVID-19 at work.

You will need to review this assessment from time to time.

The use of masks is only one control measure for COVID-19 that may be required under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws for your workplace. You must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace such as encouraging vaccination, physical distancing and good hygiene to minimise the risks from COVID-19. Further information on other control measures is provided on this page.

In addition to your obligations under the model WHS laws, you must also comply with any public health orders or directions made by governments that apply to you and your workplace. This guidance does not affect any obligations you may have regarding the use of masks that apply under public health orders and directions.

This guidance does not change, remove or reduce any existing rights or obligations under the model WHS laws.

As Victoria has not adopted the model WHS laws, this guidance is not applicable to Victoria. Up-to-date guidance applicable to responding to COVID-19 in Victorian workplaces can be found on the WorkSafe Victoria website

Masks as a control for COVID-19

Employers have a duty under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to eliminate risks, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. The hierarchy of control measures, ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest level of protection, is one way to eliminate and minimise the risks of COVID-19. In the hierarchy of control measures masks are a low-level control measure as they rely on human behaviour and supervision to ensure that the masks are worn and used to help minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Some states and territories have issued public health directions that require masks to be worn for specific activities and in certain workplaces. If public health directions are made, you must follow them. 

Wearing masks helps prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. If the person wearing the mask is unaware that they are infected with COVID-19 virus, wearing a mask will reduce the chances of them passing the virus on to others. Masks can also protect people from inhaling the virus. 

Masks can be a critical part of protecting against COVID-19. However, even if your workers use masks, to ensure you meet your duties under the model WHS laws and to minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, you must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures, such as:

  • encouraging or ensuring up to date vaccination, where applicable,
  • ensuring your workers do not come to work when unwell,
  • improving air quality,
  • practising physical distancing and adhering to density limits (check occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards),
  • relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace, off-site or supporting workers to work from home,
  • practising good hygiene,
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance,
  • staggering your workers’ start, finish and break times, and
  • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close contact, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces.

When deciding how to control the risks of COVID-19, employers have a duty to consult with workers and any Health and Safety Representatives about how to use control measures to manage the risks. This includes having administrative workplace policies and procedures related to the use of masks. 

If you have a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, your state or territory health authority can provide you with advice on what you need to do. Follow their instructions. More information about COVID-19 incident notification in the workplace is on the Safe Work Australia website.

Risk Assessment

Under the model WHS laws, employers have a duty to manage the health and safety risks, so far as reasonably practicable, in the workplace. You should always aim to eliminate risks. If you can’t eliminate the risks of COVID-19, you must minimise the risks so far is reasonably practicable. This requires a risk assessment to identify what type of reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measure, such as masks, are needed to protect workers from exposure to the COVID-19 virus. The use of masks will be based on determining the risks of becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus and the type of mask best suited to minimise the risks of COVID-19 for your workplace. 

The use of masks in the workplace to manage the risks of COVID-19 may not be the same for all businesses and will depend on a range of factors, including whether public health directions apply (e.g. use of masks), the type of business, the level of customer interaction, the level of community transmission of the virus in the geographic area, business layout (including ability to physical distance) and worker demographics (e.g. people at higher risk of COVID-19 illness). 

You must consult with workers and any Health and Safety Representatives when identifying the risks and when proposing the use of masks as a control measure. Remember that prolonged use of masks in the workplace may cause physical discomfort, heat-related illnesses and psychological risks that should be considered in your risk assessment and consultation with workers.

More information about controlling the risk of heat-related illnesses can be found in Safe Work Australia’s guide on Managing the risks of working in heat.

A risk assessment will assist you to:

  • identify which workers are at risk of COVID-19,
  • determine what sources and processes are causing the risk of COVID-19, 
  • identify the control measures that are required to minimise the risk of COVID-19, which may include masks, and
  • check the effectiveness of your control measures. 

You must review your workplace risk assessment and control measures periodically, including when new COVID-19 variants emerge and/or as your workplace situation changes, to ensure their ongoing appropriateness and effectiveness based on the latest advice from your state or territory health department and Australian Health Protection Principal Committee

Even if wearing a mask is no longer required under public health directions, you still have a duty to review the risks and implement all control measures that are required to ensure the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace are minimised so far as is reasonably practicable. This may mean you continue to require masks to be worn in your workplace. 

More information is available about how to prepare a risk assessment on the Safe Work Australia website.

Types of masks

Wearing masks helps prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. If the person wearing the mask is unaware that they are infected with COVID-19 virus, wearing a mask will reduce the chances of them passing the virus on to others. 

Masks and respirators provide the wearer with differing levels of protection from inhaling the virus. It is important to understand the different type of masks and the level of protection they provide, to ensure you use the appropriate mask for your workplace setting. 

Cloth and utility masks are not medical grade masks and provide the wearer the least protection from viruses carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols. However, they can still help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. 

Surgical masks are medical grade masks that must comply with the relevant national standards (or equivalent). They are graded as level 1, 2 and 3 based on the level of protection, or fluid resistance, they provide the wearer. Surgical masks help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus and provide greater protection from infection for the wearer.

P2/N95 respirator masks that are designed for medical use must comply with the relevant national standards (or equivalent). They are required when there is a high-risk of exposure to body fluids, respiratory droplets and aerosols in higher-risk workplace settings such as health care, aged care and disability sectors, quarantine, police and security.

Surgical and P2/N95 respirator masks for medical use are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your surgical or P2/N95 respirator mask is approved for medical use.

P2/N95 masks intended for non-medical purposes, such as in construction and other industrial workplace settings, are not medical grade and are not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

For more information and guidance about using masks in health and aged care settings can be found on the Infection Control Expert Group and Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care websites. 

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has also published advice and recommendations for health care professionals on the use of surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and the types of face masks that are regulated as medical devices

For further information see our Comparison of mask types for COVID-19 web page.

What are cloth masks? How should they be used?

A cloth mask is a non-sterile, reusable mask covering the nose and mouth to create a physical barrier between the wearer and the environment. Cloth masks are not medical grade masks and are not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. When cloth masks are properly constructed and fitted correctly, they help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. They may also provide some protection to the wearer from inhaling the virus.

A cloth mask can be made with one type or a combination of fabrics including washable woven and non-woven fabrics such as cotton, cotton/synthetic blends, polyesters and breathable, spun bond polypropylene. The effectiveness of a cloth mask to prevent spreading respiratory droplets will vary, depending on the thickness of the weave and the number of layers. They should be properly constructed with the appropriate fabrics and have a minimum of three layers

A scarf or bandana or any other single layer cloth mask does not provide effective protection from spreading the COVID-19 virus and is not recommended.

Cloth masks can be purchased from pharmacies, supermarkets, retail and online suppliers or homemade

Cloth masks are not recommended for high-risk COVID-19 settings but may be suitable for indoor or outdoor settings where there is a low-risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus. 

How to put on a cloth mask

  • Before putting on the mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Hold the mask by the side straps and place a loop around each ear.
  • Put the mask over your mouth, nose and chin.
  • Check there are no gaps on the sides of the mask.
  • Check the ear loops do not cross-over as this widens the gap between the face and mask.
  • Avoid touching and adjusting the front of the mask. This can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Avoid using the same mask continuously throughout the day.
  • Replace your mask regularly and when it becomes visibly soiled or feels damp. 

How to remove a cloth mask

  • Before touching and removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Always use the side straps when removing the mask. 
  • Lean forward, lift the side straps over the ears and pull the mask away from your face.
  • Store used dry cloth masks in a clean plastic bag.
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask as this can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • After removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Wash used cloth masks once a day.

Do not reuse a cloth mask the next day unless it has been washed.

Cloth masks should be washed once a day in the washing machine (water temperature at least 60 degrees), or handwashed using soap and the warmest appropriate water setting for the cloth. Dry the cloth mask in the clothes dryer or in fresh air. Store in a clean plastic bag. 

The Australian Government Department of Health has instructions on how to make your own cloth face mask, and how to wear and wash them.

What are utility masks? How should they be used?

A utility mask is a non-sterile, single use mask covering the nose and mouth to create a physical barrier between the wearer and the environment but does not achieve a close seal to the wearer’s face. When utility masks are fitted correctly, they help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. A utility mask looks similar to a surgical mask, however, utility masks are not medical grade masks and not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. They may also provide some protection to the wearer from inhaling the virus, although the level of protection may not be that of a surgical mask.

Utility masks can be purchased from pharmacies, supermarkets, and online suppliers.

How to put on a utility mask

  • Before putting on the mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Check that the mask does not have tears, holes and the straps are not broken.
  • Identify the top of the mask (has a metal strip).
  • Hold the mask by the side straps and place a loop around each ear.
  • Put the mask over the mouth, nose and chin with the metal strip on the top of the nose.
  • Check there are no gaps between the face and mask.
  • Check the ear loops do not cross-over as this widens the gap between the face and mask.
  • Squeeze the metal strip across the top of the nose to create a seal.
  • Avoid touching and adjusting the front of the mask. This can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Avoid using the same mask continuously throughout the day. 
  • Replace your mask regularly during the day (every 3 to 4 hours) or when it becomes visibly soiled or feels damp. 

How to remove a utility mask

  • Before touching and removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Always use the side straps when removing the mask. 
  • Lean forward, lift the side straps over the ears and pull the mask away from your face.
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask as this can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Dispose the used mask immediately into a closed bin.
  • After removing and disposing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

What are surgical masks? How should they be used?

A surgical mask is a non-sterile, single use, medical grade mask regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration that covers the mouth and nose but does not achieve a close seal to the wearer’s face. They can help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus to others

The Therapeutic Goods Administration advises that surgical masks do not provide the wearer complete protection from viruses in airborne droplets. However, they can help protect the wearer from splashes, large droplets and aerosols reaching their mouth or nose.

Surgical masks have different grades of filtration that must comply with the Australian Standards 4381:2015 and/or equivalent international standards. They are graded as level 1, 2 or 3 based on the level of protection and fluid resistance. The grading level would be clearly labelled on the packaging. Level 1 surgical masks are acceptable for general use/patient care and level 2 or 3 surgical masks are used when there is a higher risk of exposure to body fluids. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for surgical masks. This has resulted in poorly made and non-compliant masks entering the Australian market. See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your surgical mask is approved for medical use.

Surgical masks are available for purchase at pharmacies, supermarkets, and online suppliers, including manufacturers and suppliers of scientific equipment.

When using a surgical mask, ensure you always follow the manufacturer’s instruction for use. If you do not have these, see the general instructions below for how to put on a surgical mask.

How to put on a surgical mask 

  • Before putting on the mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser (or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Check that the mask does not have tears, holes and the straps are not broken.
  • Identify the top of the mask (has a metal strip) and the inside of the mask (usually the white side) towards the face. If available, read the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Hold the mask by the ear loops and place a loop around each ear.
  • Put the mask over the mouth, nose and chin with the metal strip on the top of the nose.
  • Check there are no gaps between the face and mask.
  • Check the ear loops do not cross-over as this widens the gap between the face and mask.
  • Squeeze the metal strip across the top of the nose to create a seal.
  • Avoid touching and adjusting the front of the mask. This can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Avoid using the same mask continuously throughout the day. 
  • Replace your mask regularly during the day (every 3 to 4 hours) or when it becomes visibly soiled or feels damp. 

How to remove a surgical mask

  • Before touching and removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Always use the side straps when removing the mask. 
  • Lean forward, lift the side straps over the ears and pull the mask away from your face.
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask as this can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Dispose the used mask immediately into a closed bin.
  • After removing and disposing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

What are respirator masks? How should they be used?

A respirator mask is a P2/N95 (or equivalent) medical grade mask that provides protection against airborne contaminants such as viruses and bacteria in aerosols or respiratory droplets. P2/N95 medical grade respirator masks must meet the Australian/New Zealand Standards 1716:2021 and/or equivalent international standards and are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

P2/N95 respirators should form a very close seal around the nose and mouth and are recommended for use in high-risk workplace settings such as health care and quarantine sites.

Surgical P2/N95 respirators must meet the same performance requirements as a standard P2/N95 respirator but also meet the Standards for fluid resistance against bodily fluids, which may occur during high-risk medical procedures. Surgical P2/N95 respirators are also regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your P2/N95 respirator or surgical P2/N95 respirator is approved for medical use.

It is essential that a P2/N95 respirator is properly fitted to the wearer’s face by performing a fit test and fit check. 

Fit testing

The purpose of a P2/N95 respirator fit test is to match the correct size and style of the respirator to the individual. Fit testing of a P2/N95 respirator masks must be done in accordance with Australian/New Zealand Standard 1715:2009 and should be repeated each time a new style of P2/N95 respirator is used. A fit test can be carried out by a competent person, manufacturer, supplier, or service provider. A correct facial seal ensures that the respirator fits the individual’s face without gaps between the skin and the respirator that could allow respiratory particles to bypass the filter.

Fit testing methods are either:

  • Qualitative - relies on the individual’s ability to taste or smell a test agent. The chosen respirator should fit snugly on the face to create a seal, which can be checked by gently inhaling and exhaling. If the mask is not drawn towards the face, or there are air leaks around the face seal or nose, readjust the mask and repeat the fit test until no leaks can be felt.
  • Quantitative - requires using specialised equipment used by a trained operator to measure how much air leaks into the respirator.

Facial hair, including a 1-2-day beard growth, can affect the seal between the respirator and the wearer’s face. The face must be smooth and/or clean shaven to achieve a tight seal. NSW Health has published more information about facial hair and respirator fit.

The Infection Control Expert Group advises that a fit test does not guarantee that the chosen P2/N95 respirator will not leak during future use because of changes in facial shape. Therefore, a fit check should be done each time it is used. 

Fit checking

A fit check ensures the P2/N95 respirator fit the individual’s face snugly against the skin, creating a seal to minimise exposure to airborne biological particles. A fit check should be carried out each time a P2/N95 respirator is worn by gently inhaling. If the mask is not drawn in towards the face, or air leaks around the face seal, readjust the mask and repeat process or check for defects in the mask.

If available, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to carry out a fit check.

More information about P2/N95 respirators is available on the Infection Control Expert Group website.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for P2/N95 respirators for medical use. This has resulted in fake or non-compliant P2/N95 respirators entering the Australian market. See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your P2/N95 respirator is approved for medical use.

Read SafeWork NSW’s and WorkSafe Qld’s alerts about what to check to ensure that P2/N95 respirator meet the required standards and what to do if you come across one that is not fit for purpose.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has published guidance about face masks and respirators that are regulated in Australia.

P2/N95 respirators for medical use are available from online suppliers, including manufacturers and suppliers of scientific equipment. 

How to put on a P2/N95 respirator mask

  • Before putting on the mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser (or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Only touch the outer edges of the mask.
  • Separate the edges and straps.
  • Check that the mask does not have tears, holes and the straps are not broken.
  • Identify the nose piece (has a metal strip). If available, read the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Slightly bend the nosepiece to form a gentle curve.
  • Hold the two headbands in your fingers and position the mask under your chin with the nose piece up.
  • Pull the headbands over the top of your head. The top strap should sit high at the back of the head and the bottom strap positioned below the ears. 
  • Using both hands, press down on the metal strip to the shape of your nose to create a seal.
  • The mask over the mouth, nose and chin with the metal strip on the top of the nose.
  • To check for a positive seal, exhaling sharply to ensure there are no leaks around the mask. If there are leaks, adjust the position of the mask and straps for a tighter fit.
  • To check for a negative seal, inhale deeply to ensure the mask is pulled towards your face. If there are leaks, adjust the position of the mask and straps for a tighter fit.
  • Avoid touching and adjusting the front of the mask. This can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Avoid using the same mask continuously throughout the day. 
  • Replace your mask regularly during the day or when it becomes visibly soiled or feels damp. 

How to remove a P2/N95 respirator mask

  • Before touching and removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Always use the side straps when removing the mask. 
  • Lean forward, lift the straps over the ears and pull the mask away from your face.
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask as this can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Dispose the used mask immediately into a closed bin.
  • After removing and disposing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

Queensland Health has published an infographic on how to fit a P2/N95 mask.

Do I need to provide masks to workers?

Following a risk assessment and consultation with your workers, if you determine that masks are a reasonably practicable control measure to minimise the risks of COVID-19, then you must provide them to your workers.

However, COVID-19 public health directions can be issued by governments for workplaces to wear face masks. If so, you must provide them to your workers. It is important that you keep up to date with the public health directions that apply in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace.

The Australian Government Department of Health has published information on when masks should be worn in the community and general COVID-19 information on face masks and who should use them

If your workers are required to wear masks, you must provide them. Single use masks, disposable masks (e.g. utility and surgical masks) or properly constructed cloth masks may be used. You must provide appropriate training and instruction on how to put on, wear, remove, clean and maintain (as necessary) or dispose of the mask. Information about using a mask would be provided by the manufacturer. Checking that the mask forms a close fit with the face is very important to ensure that the mask used is effective. In some workplace settings, a risk assessment may identify that a P2/N95 respirator is required to minimise the risk to the COVID-19 virus. If a P2/N95 respirator is required, it must be approved for medical use and users must be trained in the correct method of fitting, fit testing, fit checking and removing of P2/N95 respirators. If a worker has been provided training and instruction about using a mask, they must comply with that training and those instructions. 

For further information see our Comparison of mask types for COVID-19 web page.

Can I direct a worker to wear a mask?

You can direct a worker to wear a mask if you, in consultation with those workers, decide it is necessary to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Be aware that the inappropriate or incorrect use of masks may increase the risk of COVID-19 and may result in new work, health and safety risks. Workers required to wear a mask must be trained in how to wear, remove and dispose of masks, including performing good hand hygiene (washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol) before fitting the mask, and before and after taking it off. Masks need to be replaced frequently and for re-usable cloth masks stored correctly between uses. 

You will need to ensure that appropriate facilities are provided if masks are used at the workplace. This includes appropriate hand washing or sanitising facilities and a closed bin to dispose of used disposable masks.

Single use, disposable masks may be a good option for most workplaces. However, properly constructed cloth masks may be considered if they are replaced frequently, and appropriate laundering arrangements are in place. Single use masks should not be washed and reused.

What else must I do to protect workers?

Masks alone will not provide complete protection from exposure to COVID-19. To meet your duties under the model WHS laws and minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, you must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures such as:

  • encouraging or ensuring up to date vaccination, where applicable,
  • ensuring your workers do not come to work when unwell,
  • improving air quality,
  • practising physical distancing and adhering to density limits (check occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards),
  • relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace, off-site or supporting workers to work from home,
  • practising good hygiene,
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance,
  • staggering your workers’ start, finish and break times, and
  • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close contact, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces.

How do I put on and remove a mask?

If a mask (single use or cloth mask) is going to be used at the workplace you must provide workers with instruction and training on how to use them safely. If workers are also wearing gloves, they will need to put their mask on before their gloves. 

It is important to be mindful of how you put on, remove and dispose (e.g. single use mask) or store (e.g. cloth mask) your mask. Your mask may have been contaminated with the COVID-19 virus carries in respiratory droplets and aerosols. This is when you could accidently infect yourself or others.

When using masks, you should:

  • Have a consistent sequence so that this can become routine.
  • Take your time, don’t rush.
  • Always perform hand hygiene prior to putting on, after removing, and disposing or storing your mask.
  • Ensure your mask avoids contact with other surfaces when disposing or storing.

Follow all instructions for effective use of the mask that is provided by the manufacturer. If you do not have these, see instructions for how to use a:

How to dispose of single use masks?

Single use, disposable masks can be disposed of with the general waste, preferably into a closed bin containing two bin liners to ensure the waste is double bagged. Double bagging minimises any exposure to the person disposing the waste. 

A closed bin is a bin with a fitted lid, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place the mask inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate. Where a closed bin is not available, masks should be placed in a sealed bag before disposal into the bin. The sealed bag and a single bin liner are considered equivalent to double bagging. 

It is important to follow good hand hygiene after removing and disposing of your masks. Hands should be washed with soap and water for 20 seconds or cleaned with alcohol-based hand sanitiser containing at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol. 

For information about the disposal of masks in health care settings, you will need to refer to the Australian Government Department of Health and state and territory health authorities.

Can masks that are past their shelf-life date be used?

The Therapeutic Goods Administration provides advice on surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and recommends not using surgical masks that are past their shelf life. However, if there is low supply and high demand, these masks can be used if they are past their shelf life if: 

  • the ear loops, ties or bands are intact, and
  • there are no signs of visible damage.

Further Information

 

This page provides information about your obligations as a worker, and your employers’ obligations, under the model WHS laws and how these relate to the use of masks in the workplace. This includes information  on whether the use of masks for workers, including contractors and labour-hire, is a reasonably practicable control measure to manage the risks of COVID-19 at work. 

You will need to review this assessment from time to time. 

Further, the use of masks is only one control measure for COVID-19 that may be required under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws for your workplace. Your employer must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace such as encouraging or ensuring up to date vaccination, physical distancing and good hygiene to minimise the risks from COVID-19. Further information on other control measures is provided on this page.

You must comply so far is you are reasonably able with a reasonable instruction given by your employer about WHS matters (including about managing the risks of COVID-19. In addition to the obligations under the model WHS laws, you and your employer must also comply with any public health orders or directions made by governments that apply to you and your workplace. This guidance does not affect any obligations you may have regarding the use of masks that apply under public health orders and directions.

This guidance does not change, remove or reduce any existing rights or obligations under the model WHS laws.

As Victoria has not adopted the model WHS laws, this guidance is not applicable to Victoria. Up-to-date guidance applicable to responding to COVID-19 in Victorian workplaces can be found on the WorkSafe Victoria website.

As a worker, you must take reasonable care for your own health and safety, and that of other persons who may be affected by your acts or omissions. You must comply, so far as you are reasonably able, with any reasonable instruction that is given by your employer so they comply with the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. You must also cooperate with any reasonable policy or procedure that has been notified and provided to you.

Your employer has a duty under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to eliminate risks, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. The hierarchy of control measures, ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest level of protection, is one way to eliminate and minimise the risks of COVID-19. In the hierarchy of control measures masks are a low-level control measure as they rely on human behaviour and supervision to ensure that the masks are worn and used to help minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Some states and territories have issued public health directions or orders that require masks to be worn for specific activities and in certain workplaces. If public health directions or orders  are made, you must follow them. 

Wearing masks helps prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. If the person wearing the mask is unaware that they are infected with COVID-19 virus, wearing a mask will reduce the chances of them passing the virus on to others. Masks can also protect people from inhaling the virus. 

Masks can be a critical part of protecting against COVID-19. However, even if your employer determines that the use of masks is reasonably practicable for your workplace, it should not be relied on as the only control measure. To ensure your employer meets their duties under the model WHS laws and to minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, your employer must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures, such as:

  • encouraging or ensuring up to date vaccination,, where applicable,
  • ensuring you do not come to work when unwell,
  • improving air quality,
  • practising physical distancing and adhering to density limits (check occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards),
  • relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace, off-site or supporting workers to work from home,
  • practising good hygiene,
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance,
  • staggering your start, finish and break times, and
  • reducing the number of situations where you would come into close contact with other workers, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces.

When deciding how to control the risks of COVID-19, your employer has a duty to consult with workers and any Health and Safety Representatives about how to use control measures to manage the risks. This includes having administrative workplace policies and procedures related to the use of masks. 

Does my employer need to undertake a risk assessment and consult with workers?

Under the model WHS laws, your employer has a duty to manage the health and safety risks, so far as reasonably practicable, in the workplace. You should always aim to eliminate risks. If your employer can’t eliminate the risks of COVID-19, they must minimise the risks so far is reasonably practicable. This requires a risk assessment to identify what type of reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measure, such as masks, are needed to protect workers from exposure to the COVID-19 virus. The use of masks will be based on determining the risks of becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus and the type of mask best suited to minimise the risks of COVID-19 for your workplace. 

The use of masks in the workplace to manage the risks of COVID-19 may not be the same for all businesses and will depend on a range of factors, including whether public health directions or orders apply (e.g. use of masks), the type of business, the level of customer interaction, the level of community transmission of the virus in the geographic area, business layout (including ability to physical distance) and worker demographics (e.g. people at higher risk of COVID-19 illness). 


Your employer must consult with you and any Health and Safety Representatives when identifying the risks and when proposing the use of masks as a control measure. Remember that prolonged use of masks in the workplace may cause physical discomfort, heat-related illnesses and psychological risks that should be considered in the risk assessment and the consultation.

More information about controlling the risk of heat-related illnesses can be found in Safe Work Australia’s guide on Managing the risks of working in heat.

The risk assessment will assist your employer to:

  • identify which workers are at risk of COVID-19,
  • determine what sources and processes are causing the risk of COVID-19, 
  • identify the control measures that are required to minimise the risk of COVID-19, which may include masks, and
  • check the effectiveness of your control measures. 

Your employer must review your workplace risk assessment and control measures periodically, including when new COVID-19 variants emerge and/or as your workplace situation changes, to ensure their ongoing appropriateness and effectiveness based on the latest advice from your state or territory health department and Australian Health Protection Principal Committee

Even if wearing a mask is no longer required under public health directions or orders, your employer still has a duty to review the risks and implement all control measures that are required to ensure the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace are minimised so far as is reasonably practicable. This may mean you continue to require masks to be worn in your workplace. 

Does my employer need to provide masks to workers?

As a result of the risk assessment and consultation with you and any Health and Safety Representatives, your employer may determine that masks are a reasonably practicable control measure to minimise the risks of COVID-19. In these circumstances, your employer must provide masks to you.

However, public health directions or orders can be issued by governments for workplaces to wear face masks. If so, your employer must provide them to workers. It is important that your employer keeps up to date with the public health directions or orders that apply in your state or territory, and ensures that these are followed at the workplace.

The Australian Government Department of Health has published information on when masks should be worn in the community and general COVID-19 information on face masks and who should use them

If you are required to wear masks, then your employer must provide them to you. Single use masks, disposable masks (e.g. utility and surgical masks) or properly constructed cloth masks may be used. Your employer must provide you with appropriate training and instruction on how to put on, wear, remove, clean and maintain (as necessary) or dispose of the mask. Checking that the mask forms a close fit with the face is very important to ensure that the mask used is effective. In some workplace settings, a risk assessment may identify that a P2/N95 respirator is required to minimise the risk to the COVID-19 virus. If a P2/N95 respirator is required, it must be approved for medical use and users must be trained in the correct method of fitting, fit testing, fit checking and removing of P2/N95 respirators.

If you have been provided training and instruction about using a mask, you must comply with that training and those instructions. 

Can workers be directed to wear a mask?

Your employer can direct you or other workers to wear a mask if, following consultation with workers and Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs; if any), they decide it is necessary to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Be aware that the inappropriate or incorrect use of masks may increase the risk of COVID-19 and may result in new work, health and safety risks. If you are required to wear a mask, you must be trained in how to wear, remove and dispose of masks, including performing good hand hygiene (washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol) before fitting the mask, and before and after taking it off. Masks need to be replaced frequently and, for re-usable cloth masks, stored correctly between uses. 

Your employer will need to ensure that appropriate facilities are provided if masks are used at the workplace. This includes appropriate hand washing or sanitising facilities and a bin to dispose of used disposable masks.

Single use, disposable masks may be a good option for most workplaces. However, cloth masks may be considered if they are replaced frequently, and appropriate laundering arrangements are in place. Single use masks should not be washed and reused. 

Types of masks

Wearing masks helps prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. If the person wearing the mask is unaware that they are infected with COVID-19 virus, wearing a mask will reduce the chances of them passing the virus on to others. 

Masks and respirators provide the wearer with differing levels of protection from inhaling the virus. It is important to understand the different type of masks and the level of protection they provide, to ensure the appropriate mask is used for your workplace setting. 

Cloth and utility masks are not medical grade masks and provide the wearer the least protection from viruses carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols. However, they can still help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. 

Surgical masks are medical grade masks that must comply with the relevant national standards (or equivalent). They are graded as level 1, 2 and 3 based on the level of protection, or fluid resistance, they provide the wearer. Surgical masks help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus and provide greater protection from infection for the wearer.

P2/N95 respirator masks that are designed for medical use must comply with the relevant national standards (or equivalent). They are required when there is a high-risk of exposure to body fluids, respiratory droplets and aerosols in higher-risk workplace settings such as health care, aged care and disability sectors, quarantine, police and security.

Surgical and P2/N95 respirator masks for medical use are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your surgical or P2/N95 respirator mask is approved for medical use.

P2/N95 masks intended for non-medical purposes, such as in construction and other industrial workplace settings, are not medical grade and are not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

For more information and guidance about using masks in health and aged care settings can be found on the Infection Control Expert Group and Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care websites. 

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has also published advice and recommendations for health care professionals on the use of surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and the types of face masks that are regulated as medical devices

For further information see our Comparison of mask types for COVID-19 web page.

What are cloth masks? How should they be used? 

A cloth mask is a non-sterile, reusable mask covering the nose and mouth to create a physical barrier between the wearer and the environment. Cloth masks are not medical grade masks and are not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. When cloth masks are properly constructed and fitted correctly, they help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. They may also provide some protection to the wearer from inhaling the virus.

A cloth mask can be made with one type or a combination of fabrics including washable woven and non-woven fabrics such as cotton, cotton/synthetic blends, polyesters and breathable, spun bond polypropylene. The effectiveness of a cloth mask to prevent spreading respiratory droplets will vary, depending on the thickness of the weave and the number of layers. They should be properly constructed with the appropriate fabrics and have a minimum of three layers

A scarf or bandana or any other single layer cloth mask does not provide effective protection from spreading the COVID-19 virus and is not recommended.

Cloth masks can be purchased from pharmacies, supermarkets, retail and online suppliers or homemade

Cloth masks are not recommended for high-risk COVID-19 settings but may be suitable for indoor or outdoor settings where there is a low-risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus. 

How to put on a cloth mask

  • Before putting on the mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Hold the mask by the side straps and place a loop around each ear.
  • Put the mask over your mouth, nose and chin.
  • Check there are no gaps on the sides of the mask.
  • Check the ear loops do not cross-over as this widens the gap between the face and mask.
  • Avoid touching and adjusting the front of the mask. This can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Avoid using the same mask continuously throughout the day.
  • Replace your mask regularly and when it becomes visibly soiled or feels damp. 

How to remove a cloth mask

  • Before touching and removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Always use the side straps when removing the mask. 
  • Lean forward, lift the side straps over the ears and pull the mask away from your face.
  • Store used dry cloth masks in a clean plastic bag.
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask as this can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • After removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Wash used cloth masks once a day.

Do not reuse a cloth mask the next day unless it has been washed.

Cloth masks should be washed once a day in the washing machine (water temperature at least 60 degrees), or handwashed using soap and the warmest appropriate water setting for the cloth. Dry the cloth mask in the clothes dryer or in fresh air. Store in a clean plastic bag. 

The Australian Government Department of Health has instructions on how to make your own cloth face mask, and how to wear and wash them.

What are utility masks? How should they be used?

A utility mask is a non-sterile, single use mask covering the nose and mouth to create a physical barrier between the wearer and the environment but does not achieve a close seal to the wearer’s face. When utility masks are fitted correctly, they help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. A utility mask looks similar to a surgical mask, however, utility masks are not medical grade masks and not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. They may also provide some protection to the wearer from inhaling the virus, although the level of protection may not be that of a surgical mask.

Utility masks can be purchased from pharmacies, supermarkets, and online suppliers.

How to put on a utility mask

  • Before putting on the mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Check that the mask does not have tears, holes and the straps are not broken.
  • Identify the top of the mask (has a metal strip).
  • Hold the mask by the side straps and place a loop around each ear.
  • Put the mask over the mouth, nose and chin with the metal strip on the top of the nose.
  • Check there are no gaps between the face and mask.
  • Check the ear loops do not cross-over as this widens the gap between the face and mask.
  • Squeeze the metal strip across the top of the nose to create a seal.
  • Avoid touching and adjusting the front of the mask. This can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Avoid using the same mask continuously throughout the day. 
  • Replace your mask regularly during the day (every 3 to 4 hours) or when it becomes visibly soiled or feels damp. 

How to remove a utility mask

  • Before touching and removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Always use the side straps when removing the mask. 
  • Lean forward, lift the side straps over the ears and pull the mask away from your face.
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask as this can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Dispose the used mask immediately into a closed bin.
  • After removing and disposing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

What are surgical masks? How should they be used?

A surgical mask is a non-sterile, single use, medical grade mask regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration that covers the mouth and nose but does not achieve a close seal to the wearer’s face. They can help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus to others

The Therapeutic Goods Administration advises that surgical masks do not provide the wearer complete protection from viruses in airborne droplets. However, they can help protect the wearer from splashes, large droplets and aerosols reaching their mouth or nose.

Surgical masks have different grades of filtration that must comply with the Australian Standards 4381:2015 and/or equivalent international standards. They are graded as level 1, 2 or 3 based on the level of protection and fluid resistance. The grading level would be clearly labelled on the packaging. Level 1 surgical masks are acceptable for general use/patient care and level 2 or 3 surgical masks are used when there is a higher risk of exposure to body fluids. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for surgical masks. This has resulted in poorly made and non-compliant masks entering the Australian market. See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your surgical mask is approved for medical use.

Surgical masks are available for purchase at pharmacies, supermarkets, and online suppliers, including manufacturers and suppliers of scientific equipment.

When using a surgical mask, ensure you always follow the manufacturer’s instruction for use. If you do not have these, see the general instructions below for how to put on a surgical mask.

How to put on a surgical mask 

  • Before putting on the mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser (or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Check that the mask does not have tears, holes and the straps are not broken.
  • Identify the top of the mask (has a metal strip) and the inside of the mask (usually the white side) towards the face. If available, read the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Hold the mask by the ear loops and place a loop around each ear.
  • Put the mask over the mouth, nose and chin with the metal strip on the top of the nose.
  • Check there are no gaps between the face and mask.
  • Check the ear loops do not cross-over as this widens the gap between the face and mask.
  • Squeeze the metal strip across the top of the nose to create a seal.
  • Avoid touching and adjusting the front of the mask. This can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Avoid using the same mask continuously throughout the day. 
  • Replace your mask regularly during the day (every 3 to 4 hours) or when it becomes visibly soiled or feels damp. 

How to remove a surgical mask

  • Before touching and removing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Always use the side straps when removing the mask. 
  • Lean forward, lift the side straps over the ears and pull the mask away from your face.
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask as this can lead to self-contamination and spread any infection from your hand to other surfaces, objects and new masks. 
  • Dispose the used mask immediately into a closed bin.
  • After removing and disposing your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

What are respirator masks? How should they be used?

A respirator mask is a P2/N95 (or equivalent) medical grade mask that provides protection against airborne contaminants such as viruses and bacteria in aerosols or respiratory droplets. P2/N95 medical grade respirator masks must meet the Australian/New Zealand Standards 1716:2021 and/or equivalent international standards and are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

P2/N95 respirators should form a very close seal around the nose and mouth and are recommended for use in high-risk workplace settings such as health care and quarantine sites.

Surgical P2/N95 respirators must meet the same performance requirements as a standard P2/N95 respirator but also meet the Standards for fluid resistance against bodily fluids, which may occur during high-risk medical procedures. Surgical P2/N95 respirators are also regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your P2/N95 respirator or surgical P2/N95 respirator is approved for medical use.

It is essential that a P2/N95 respirator is properly fitted to the wearer’s face by performing a fit test and fit check. 

Fit testing

The purpose of a P2/N95 respirator fit test is to match the correct size and style of the respirator to the individual. Fit testing of a P2/N95 respirator masks must be done in accordance with Australian/New Zealand Standard 1715:2009 and should be repeated each time a new style of P2/N95 respirator is used. A fit test can be carried out by a competent person, manufacturer, supplier, or service provider. A correct facial seal ensures that the respirator fits the individual’s face without gaps between the skin and the respirator that could allow respiratory particles to bypass the filter.

Fit testing methods are either:

  • Qualitative - relies on the individual’s ability to taste or smell a test agent. The chosen respirator should fit snugly on the face to create a seal, which can be checked by gently inhaling and exhaling. If the mask is not drawn towards the face, or there are air leaks around the face seal or nose, readjust the mask and repeat the fit test until no leaks can be felt.
  • Quantitative - requires using specialised equipment used by a trained operator to measure how much air leaks into the respirator.

Facial hair, including a 1-2-day beard growth, can affect the seal between the respirator and the wearer’s face. The face must be smooth and/or clean shaven to achieve a tight seal. NSW Health has published more information about facial hair and respirator fit.

The Infection Control Expert Group advises that a fit test does not guarantee that the chosen P2/N95 respirator will not leak during future use because of changes in facial shape. Therefore, a fit check should be done each time it is used. 

Fit checking

A fit check ensures the P2/N95 respirator fit the individual’s face snugly against the skin, creating a seal to minimise exposure to airborne biological particles. A fit check should be carried out each time a P2/N95 respirator is worn by gently inhaling. If the mask is not drawn in towards the face, or air leaks around the face seal, readjust the mask and repeat process or check for defects in the mask.

If available, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to carry out a fit check.

More information about P2/N95 respirators is available on the Infection Control Expert Group website.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for P2/N95 respirators for medical use. This has resulted in fake or non-compliant P2/N95 respirators entering the Australian market. See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your P2/N95 respirator is approved for medical use.

Read SafeWork NSW and WorkSafe Qld alerts about what to check to ensure that P2/N95 respirator meet the required standards and what to do if you come across one that is not fit for purpose.

How do I put on and remove a mask?

If a mask (single use or cloth mask) is going to be used at your workplace, your employer must provide you with instruction and training on how to use them safely. If you are also wearing gloves,  you will need to put on your mask before putting on the gloves. 

It is important to be mindful of how you put on, remove and dispose (e.g. single use mask) or store (e.g. cloth mask) your mask. Your mask may have been contaminated with the COVID-19 virus carries in respiratory droplets and aerosols. This is when you could accidently infect yourself or others.

When using masks, you should:

  • Have a consistent sequence so that this can become routine.
  • Take your time, don’t rush.
  • Always perform hand hygiene prior to putting on, after removing, and disposing or storing your mask.
  • Ensure your mask avoids contact with other surfaces when disposing or storing.

Follow all instructions for effective use of the mask that is provided by the manufacturer. If you do not have these, see instructions for how to use a:

  • cloth mask,
  • utility mask, 
  • surgical mask, or
  • P2/N95 respirator.

How to dispose of single use masks?

Single use, disposable masks can be disposed of with the general waste, preferably into a closed bin containing two bin liners to ensure the waste is double bagged. Double bagging minimises any exposure to the person disposing the waste. 

A closed bin is a bin with a fitted lid, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place the mask inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate. Where a closed bin is not available, masks should be placed in a sealed bag before disposal into the bin. The sealed bag and a single bin liner are considered equivalent to double bagging. 

It is important to follow good hand hygiene after removing and disposing of your masks. Hands should be washed with soap and water for 20 seconds or cleaned with alcohol-based hand sanitiser containing at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol. 

For information about the disposal of masks in health care settings, you will need to refer to the Australian Government Department of Health and state and territory health authorities.

Can masks that are past their shelf-life date be used?

The Therapeutic Goods Administration provides advice on surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and recommends not using surgical masks that are past their shelf life. However, if there is low supply and high demand, these masks can be used if they are past their shelf life if: 

  • the ear loops, ties or bands are intact, and
  • there are no signs of visible damage.
  •  

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