COVID-19 risk assessment for mask wearing: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

Information requested

A risk assessment for mask wearing, and whether the following questions have been assessed:
1. Testing for bacteria inside the mask after use.
2. Oxygen levels while wearing mask.
3. Disposal of masks as they are all over the streets.
4. Cleaning of public bins with disinfectant.


After searching internally for information relating to parts of your enquiry, no information was found in the Scottish Government's possession that was not already in the public domain. This is relevant for the elements of your query relating to a risk assessment for mask use and the cleaning of public bins with disinfectant.

Under section 25(1) of FOISA, there is no requirement for the Scottish Government to provide you with information that is publicly available, but we have provided links to this information for your convenience. If, however, you do not have internet access to obtain this information from the websites listed, then please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.

1. and 2. - Risk assessment for mask wearing, testing for bacteria inside a mask after use, and oxygen levels while wearing a mask
Potential risks of wearing a face covering were considered by the UK Government’s New and Emerging Virus Threats Action Group (NERVTAG). This evidence shows minimal impact on oxygen levels while wearing a face covering. For your reference these points are covered under the subheading: ‘2. Are there other health risks of wearing a face covering from extended periods?’
Duration of wearing of face coverings (

Additional evidence on the use of face coverings by the public includes the following:

  • On 4 June 2020, SAGE discussed mitigation measures which included the use of face coverings. You can find further information in the meeting minutes which are available on the UK Government website here.
  • The World Health Organisation released update advice on face covering on the 5 June 2020. The guidance advised that to prevent Covid-19 transmission effectively in areas of community transmission, governments should encourage the general public to wear face coverings in specific situations and settings as part of comprehensive approach to suppress Covid-19 transmission. You can find a copy of this guidance on the WHO website here.

The UK Government released a summary of the relevant SAGE reports for this topic. This can be found on the UK Parliament website here.

As this evidence shows there is a risk of micro-organisms developing in a used face covering, the Scottish Government has issued advice on wearing and caring for face coverings, including regularly washing re-usable face masks and safely disposing of non-reusable ones. Coronavirus (COVID-19): public use of face coverings - (

3. Disposal of masks as they are all over the streets
Having undertaken relevant searches of Scottish Government systems and correspondence, a number of documents were found that were within the scope of your request. These are provided in the attached documents. Under Section 38 of FOISA, the personal information of third parties is exempt from disclosure. Redactions to these documents have been under this section relating to the personal data of third parties.

Further information on Scottish Government advice for safely wearing and cleaning a face covering, at the link below. This link also contains advice issued to the public on the disposal of masks to avoid them littering the streets.
Coronavirus (COVID-19): public use of face coverings - (

Zero Waste Scotland has also issued the following advice on how to dispose of face masks, which may be of interest to you: Reusable face coverings | How to Waste Less (

You may also find the following answer to a question asked in the Scottish Parliament on this subject useful: Motions, Questions and Answers Search - Parliamentary Business : Scottish Parliament.

4. Cleaning of public bins with disinfectant
The Scottish Government has considered the question of cleaning public bins with disinfectant.

This question was considered by the Scottish Government in public engagement in May 2020, the results of which can be found on page 39 of the publicly-available summary of public engagement. Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making - overview of public engagement - (

Further advice has been issued by the Waste Industry Safety & Health Forum, which is available at the link below. On page 12, this advice specifies that for any waste activity, all cleaning arrangements should be reinforced, including the use of disinfectant to eliminate viruses. This advice also covers street cleansing. INFO-13-COVID19-and-waste-management-activities-issue-9-6-Jan-2021.pdf (

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Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
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