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A face covering should safely cover both the nose and mouth—but should be distinguished from medical-grade PPE. Both reusable or single-use face coverings are available, and different masks offer different levels of protection. Surgical masks should generally be reserved for health workers or those at particularly high risk. Other alternatives include a scarf, bandana, religious garment or hand-made cloth covering, as long as these cover the nose and mouth and fit securely around the face.
Face coverings are intended to protect others rather than the wearer, against the spread of infection. Droplets from the nose and mouth are the main way the virus which causes the coronavirus infection is transmitted—masks or other face coverings help to limit this transmission.
As of 8 August 2020, the government requires members of the public to wear a face covering in certain places. The rules are different in different parts of the UK.
In England, face coverings are mandatory in a range of indoor settings, including premises providing professional, legal or financial services. High street solicitors are cited as an example falling under this category, so it is clear the requirement can apply to clients of law firms attending the premises in person.
According to the Law Society, the Health and Safety Executive has confirmed that this requirement only applies to firms with a ‘shop front’ on the high street, ie where members of the people can walk in. Clients of all other law firms (eg where you only see clients by appointment) do not need to wear face coverings on your premises.
Where required, your clients should put on a face covering before entering your offices and keep it on until they leave, unless there is a reasonable excuse for removing it, eg if you ask them to do so for identification purposes.
You should take reasonable steps to promote compliance with the law.
Office staff are not generally required to wear a face covering, though you should support your employees if they choose to do so—see Practice Note: Coronavirus (COVID-19)—safe working in an office environment.
Face coverings are not a replacement for other ways of managing risk, such as social distancing and increased hand and surface washing.
In addition to encouraging compliance with the rules on face coverings, the Law Society recommends you also take measures such as:
• encourage visits via remote connection/working where possible
• explain your office protocol on social distancing and hygiene to your clients in advance—eg by phone, on your website or by email
• limit the number of visitors attending the office at any one time
• determine if schedules for essential services and contractor visits can be revised to reduce interaction and overlap between people—eg by carrying out services at night
• maintain a record of all visitors
• revisit visitor arrangements to ensure social distancing and hygiene—eg where visitors physically sign in with the same pen at reception
• provide clear guidance on social distancing and hygiene to people on arrival—eg signage or visual aids
• establish reception responsibilities relating to coronavirus and providing any necessary training
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