Woolworths explains why staff don't have to wear gloves or masks

Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci has revealed why staff members don’t wear gloves and masks while serving customers.

It’s no longer uncommon to see people in Australia wearing face masks and gloves in public, with many people seeing them as precaution against contracting coronavirus.

However, the Australian Government Department of Health advises surgical masks only need to be worn in public by those with suspected or confirmed cases of the virus.

Healthcare workers and those in close contact with confirmed cases of the virus are also advised to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

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A supermarket worker wearing gloves as she scans items.
Some have asked why supermarket staff aren't required to wear gloves and masks. Source: Getty Images

To protect staff supermarket giants Aldi, Coles and Woolworths have introduced several measures such as plexiglass screens and social distancing rules, but some have raised concerns they are not doing enough to protect those working on the frontline.

Some shoppers have even confronted young staff in person for not wearing gloves or masks resulting in sometimes aggressive behaviour toward workers.

Mr Banducci told News Corp that while Woolworths updates staff on the latest advice from the Department of Health, they have chosen to follow advice and have left the decision to wear PPE in the hands of staff.

“The current guidance from the Department of Health is that it is not necessary for our teams to wear either gloves or masks in store,” he said.

“However, we know that many of our team feel more comfortable wearing them, so we are leaving them with the option to use them if they so choose and then, within that context, we are laying guidelines to ensure they are used safely.”

Woolworths did not answer when Yahoo News Australia asked if staff were provided with PPE if they requested it. There is currently a global shortage of surgical masks, and disposable gloves are rare and even difficult to purchase in-store at Woolworths.

Woolworths shoppers standing in front of checkouts that have plexiglass screens installed to protect staff.
Woolworths have rolled out plexiglass screens and social distancing measures to protect staff and customers. Source: Woolworths

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said there was an argument against everybody wearing face masks to make sure there was enough PPE supply to protect healthcare workers or people who are sick.

“There is the issue that we have a massive global shortage and where should these masks be and where is the best benefit?” WHO’s Dr Michael Ryan said in a recent press conference.

“Right now the people most at risk from this virus are frontline health workers who are exposed to the virus every second of every day.”

Does wearing gloves help?

Wearing gloves will protect your hands from coming in to contact with bacteria, but one of the biggest misconceptions is that gloves alone will protect you.

Nurse Molly Lixey released a video demonstrating how easily cross contamination could makes gloves pointless.

A woman puts on a pair of gloves.
Gloves can protect you from bacteria if you avoid cross contamination. Source: Getty Images

By simulating grocery shopping with a pair of gloves and dipping her fingers in paint, the nurse proved that unless the person wearing the gloves washes their hands, they can’t protect you from the spread of germs.

The World Health Organisation have said the best preventative measure from contracting the virus is to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and if that isn’t available then a hospital grade hand sanitiser is an alternative.

Rules around the world

Some countries have made wearing face masks in public compulsory including Israel, Indonesia, the Czech Republic and several major Indian cities.

America recently changed its recommendation to the public to wear masks after the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) suggested people should wear masks when travelling in public, although President Donald Trump said he wouldn’t be participating.

“The CDC is advising the use of non-medical cloth face covering as an additional voluntary public health measure,” Mr Trump said.

Supermarket staff wearing gloves and a face mask hands a receipt to a shopper also wearing a mask in Austria.
In Austria, supermarket staff and customers have to wear masks in store. Source: Getty Images

From April 1 Austria made wearing masks in supermarkets compulsory for all staff and their customers, but the Australian government doesn’t think they are helpful for the general public.

“Surgical masks in the community are only helpful in preventing people who have coronavirus disease from spreading it to others,” the Department of Health states.

The advice from WHO about the benefits of wearing face masks is similar.

“In general WHO recommends that the wearing of a mask by a member of the public is to prevent that individual giving the disease to somebody else,” Dr Ryan said.

“We don't generally recommend the wearing to masks in public by otherwise well individuals because it has not been up to now associated with any particular benefit.”

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