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Policies differ concerning retail staff wearing face masks to ward off colds

12 Comments

On the first day of business of the new year, many retail store doors swing open to admit crowds of eager customers in search of bargains and fukubukuro --special "lucky bags" of merchandise in which a fortunate few will hit the jackpot. 

Despite the upbeat seasonal mood, these activities take place during the season of colds and flu. Yukan Fuji (Dec 27) sprang into action after learning that the corporate communications department of Aeon, nation's largest general retailer, in early December had instructed its personnel managers to notify staff that "in principle," those working in direct contact with customers would be prohibited from wearing masks. 

The web was full of posts critical of Aeon's policy. After all, an advisory from no less than the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor itself had recognized the wearing of such masks to be effective in the suppressing of germs typically spread by coughs and sneezes. 

Actually Aeon's no-mask policy is not etched in stone and the company says it makes exceptions for certain conditions. As a spokesperson put it, "The worker may communicate with their supervisor and take action accordingly." 

What's more, workers in the meat and fresh foods departments, for example, wear masks throughout the year. And for that matter anyone who might be coming down with a cold, or who suffers from hay fever, is permitted to wear them. 

Working at damage control, Aeon explained to Yukan Fuji, "The thinking behind the directive banning the masks was done out of consideration of employees' appearance, but perhaps we did not provide a sufficient explanation." 

Yukan Fuji then proceeded to survey major retailers to query their policies about the wearing of surgical masks by store personnel, and found considerable variance in their policies. 

For instance, branches of stores operated by Mitsukoshi Isetan Holdings in the Tokyo area, with the exception of food handlers, bans wearing the masks in principle. The reason, the reporter was informed, was "This has been widely remarked by the customers themselves. In some cases masks make it harder to hear what the speaker is saying, and it further inhibits communications in that one can't determine the expression on the speaker's face. 

"It also makes it harder to identify and track down individual sales personnel, and conveys the impression that the person might be suffering from a serious disease. And wearing one makes it more difficult to talk to the customers," he added. "If a worker feels poorly, they should call in sick. And if the symptoms are light enough to come to work, they can be assigned other tasks that don't involve meeting customers."  

At the Takashima department store, on the other hand, the policy concerning wearing masks is not company-wide, but determined on a case-by-case basis at each branch. 

"We feel it's better that staff who serve customers don't wear one," says a spokesperson in the public relations and investor relations office. "That said, from the standpoint of worker health and prevention, the decision is left to people at the site." 

The PR spokesperson for the company operating the group controlling the Daimaru and Matsuzakaya chains was quoted as saying that staff waiting on customers may wear masks, with the choice "left to that individual's discretion." 

"According to some points of view, the masks typically sold on the market are ineffective in preventing the spread of contagions," observes Dr Hideomi Nakahara, a professor at the Yamano College of Aesthetics in Hachioji City. "Still, I'm a bit put off to see employers trying to control the situation. Isn't it better to accord staff their own freedom of choice in the matter of whether or not they wear masks?"

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12 Comments
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Those working with the public should not wear those masks. They hinder communication, especially for those with hearing problems, mental illness and those who are not fluent in Japanese. They are anti-social and have limited effectiveness preventing the spread of upper respiratory tract infections. Proper hand washing, with soap, and proper drying with a disposable paper towel is far more effective.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Retail store workers should not be wearing masks or any other business except for medical places like hospitals.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

The wearing of masks is not a good idea at all. Most who put them on do not use them as they are to be used. They leave gaps open or just not even cover the nose where most of breathing takes place. I've seen people just hang them on their chins. It's almost a fashion statement. I see kids wearing them. How are they supposed to develop natural immunity if they aren't exposed? And that's assuming the masks are used properly. Even if used "properly," it is my opinion that they only prolong the inevitable. They are useless at best, a downright menace to health at worst.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Good for Aeon! Workers in the rest of the world seem to manage perfectly well without masks.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Isn’t it basic human rights to be able to cover one’s face for medical, religious or cultural reasons? I suffer from asthma and wearing masks significantly makes breathing easier, as it regulates moisture/temperature level and lowers risks of contacting with airborne allergens. Not wearing it should be the user’s choice, which I excercise depending on the situation.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

I hate when people in customer service wear those masks. Not only does it make what they are saying difficult to understand for those of us with hearing problems but we can't even try and read their lips.

Wash your hands frequently, don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth while working and don't cough or sneeze into your hands. Good common sense and hygiene should do the trick for most people.

Japan is a place with enough communication issues. There's no need to add to that by wearing an anti-social mask while working with the public.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I think a full body bag is much more effective than a mask at prevention of disease transmission, though yes, all customers will be able to hear is Umph, Urrr, or Uofff, which may limit communication.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

If there is not a legitimate, evidence-based reason for wearing a mask then there is no need for them to be worn and therefore can be regulated by companies. Masks don't stop diseases spreading, notice how that's never advertised? If they advertised it, it would be false advertising and leave them open for a law suit. People in Asia somehow got the idea they would prevent disease and other things not based on evidence, a bit like how people in Europe though washing caused the black plague by opening their pores for the disease to get in!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Well, Kaju-san, what are asthmatics in the rest of world doing? Proper medication, not useless face masks.

I agree with the other comments. Will be great once the mask fad has expired. Perhaps all the people visiting Japan from abroad wondering at the many surgeons on the street, including children!, will shame the sheep back to social normality. The human body is built to fend off germs. Otherwise, we would all be dead yesterday.

Have a cold? Have to sneeze? Bring a hankie. Sheesh. Enough of the white face doilies. I want to see your face when I am out and about.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I refused to let my students enter my room with a mask on.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Stepping into the arrivals of Narita airport after being abroad for a while is surrealistic: all the uniformed staff wearing face masks and of course, white gloves.

When I see a group of Japanese overseas and they're all wearing the masks, they look plain weird, like members of a doomsday cult.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

FACT: Paper masks do not ward off colds at all! In order for paper masks to be effective against viruses they must be 12x surgical masks and replaced every 20 minutes. (source, WHO)

The irony: Single layer paper masks are designed to stop dust only. In fact, they actually create an environment for viruses and bacteria to live. Viruses need three things to thrive. They need fresh air, warmth and moisture. This describes the front of a paper mask perfectly. This is how people get sick. Colds are flu viruses are contact viruses. These fools will come into contact with the virus and touch their masks transferring the virus to the mask. They will continually touch the mask as the virus reproduce. They will then touch their eyes transferring the virus into their body and become sick. Human saliva is antibacterial. The hairs in one's nose are designed to catch and kill bacteria with the heat from exhaling. Therefore, one is more likely to get sick wearing a paper mask than from not wearing one. The only effective way to protect oneself from cold and flu is to wash your hands with soap regularly and keep your fingers out of your eyes.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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