London Underground workers are facing potential danger as mask-wearing is now being “openly ignored” on a large scale, unions have warned.

Union officials and passengers say there has been a noticeable decline in the number of Tube users wearing face masks despite messages saying it is a requirement when travelling.

Around 500 uniformed enforcement officers continue to ask customers to comply, and since the national rules ceased to apply in July, Transport for London (TfL) said it has refused entry to 408 people and asked 126 to leave services.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union Aslef, said: “We believe mask-wearing should be mandatory on trains, to protect passengers and staff and to control the covid-19 pandemic.

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“It is mandatory, but not enforced, on TfL and we have noticed a decline in recent days in the number of passengers wearing masks.”

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said: “Staff members on London Underground are put in an invidious and potentially dangerous situation as mask-wearing on TFL, a condition of carriage, is now being openly ignored on a large scale.”

A TfL spokesman said that “wearing a face covering on our services and in our stations is still required under TfL’s condition of carriage”.

“We are also handing out more face coverings to help our customers do the right thing and keep each other safe. Anybody who does not comply may be refused entry to our services,” they said.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan added: “It’s vital that people take measures to protect themselves and others, including wearing face masks in enclosed spaces, such as the public transport network.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan (photo PA)

“The evidence that face masks can make a substantial contribution towards lower transmission is getting stronger all the time.

“I continue to urgently lobby ministers to bring back this requirement and enable British Transport Police officers to enforce the wearing of face coverings across all TfL services.”

Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Sadly, we remain in the midst of a deadly pandemic and it’s vital that coverings are used across the London Underground, wider Transport for London services and public transport as a whole.

“Our union is all too aware of the sacrifices made by the many brave transport workers who have stood on the front line throughout this Covid crisis.”