Our Guide to Face Masks and Coverings
There are so many options out there for Face Masks and Face Coverings available and it can be very confusing as not all masks are the equal and there can be major variations in the level of protection and use for each type.
The market is now becoming flooded with low quality products with fake certificates and products claiming to be FFP2 or Surgical Type IIR masks when they are clearly not. I will try to explain in layman's terms and plain English the various types of masks, what they are suitable for and the pro and cons of each type. In addition I shall try and elaborate on what is PPE and what isn't classed as PPE.
Main types are:
- Surgical Masks
- Face Coverings
- Non EU Approved Face Masks
- Certified FFP2 & FFP3 Masks
- Full and Half Face Respirators
Some useful information from the WHO can be found [here]
A medical or surgical mask is a disposable medical device. It protects against infectious agents transmitted in “droplets.” However, it does not protect against “airborne” infectious agents.
Surgical or Medical Masks DO NOT prevent the wearer from being potentially contaminated by a virus but they do offer a level of transmission by the wearer to others.
Surgical masks are only designed for short term use and should be worn only once and for a maximum time of a couple of hours.
Surgical masks are tested in the direction of exhalation (from inside to outside). The tests take into account the efficiency of bacterial filtration. They must meet the following regional standards:
• European standard EN 14683. According to this standard there are three types of effectiveness:
o Type 1 or BFE1 with a bacterial filtration efficiency of over 95%.
o Type 2 or BFE2 with a bacterial filtration efficiency of over 98%.
o Type R: the European standard also adds a test of resistance to projection for types 1R and 2R, 2R being the most resistant
We only sell the highest standard - TYPE IIR Masks at Safe Hygienic Workplace
Fabric Face Coverings
Fabric face coverings are not classed as PPE and only offer limited protection against airborne infectious agents such as viruses. Depending on how they are made and what materials are used and how they are worn, the effectiveness can vary considerably.
A cloth face covering should cover your mouth and nose while allowing you to breathe comfortably. These can and should be washed regularly. It can go in with other laundry, using your normal detergent.
Face coverings should be used in normal situations by the public in public areas and in work situations where face to face contact is minimal and Social distancing is possible. We sell a range of Non PPE Face coverings for general use at work and some can be branded Free of Charge.
The UK Government has some guidance on these and making them [here]
Non-EU Certified Masks - N95 & KN95
These are a version of face masks that have started to flood the UK market coming in from China and they are not certified and approved for use in the EU. That doesn't mean they don't offer a level of protection but they cannot officially be supplied as PPE.
Also note that an amount of fake and poor quality masks have entered the UK market and KN/N95's have been marked with FFP2 etc with false certificates so check sources carefully.
Roughly N95 & KN95 masks offer a similar level of protection as FFP2 Masks but the main noticeable difference is they come with ear loops whereas an FFP2 must have a two head loops (not ear loops) and they are not CE certified and stamped.
In the United States, respirators must meet NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) standards. Within this standard, there are several classes of respirators depending on the degree of oil resistance:
Class N: no oil resistance. A distinction is made between N95, N99 and N100. The number after the letter indicates the percentage of filtration of suspended particles.
KN95 masks are the Chinese standards for masks. These are the requirements that the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health requires manufacturers to meet in order to label their masks as N95s. Despite the long list of differences, the two masks are equivalent or nearly equivalent on the features that most people care about
We have K95 & KN95 in our range which we have checked and vetted for authenticity
Certified FFP2 & FFP3 Face Masks/Respirators
A respirator is a type of PPE (personal protective equipment). It prevents the wearer from inhaling aerosols (dust, smoke, mist) as well as vapors or gases (disinfectants, anesthetic gases) that are health hazards. It also protects the wearer from airborne infectious agents i.e. against contamination by a virus such as coronavirus, SARS, H1N1, etc.
Respirators consist of a facepiece and a filtering device. Sometimes the filter element is integrated into the facepiece. Filtering respirators can sometimes also be equipped with an exhalation valve to improve user comfort. The valve prevents condensation inside the mask, misting on the glasses and helps the user breathe in and out easily.
It should be noted that respirators also protect those who wear them from inhaling “droplets” of infectious agents
Respirators: these masks are tested in the direction of inspiration (from outside to inside). They must meet the following regional standards:
European standard EN 149: 2001. According to this standard, there are three classes of disposable particulate respirators:
o FFP1: the least filtering of the three masks with a filtration of at least 80% and leakage to the inside of maximum 22%; mainly used as a dust mask (home renovations etc).
o FFP2: minimum 94% filtration percentage and maximum 8% leakage to the inside; mainly used in construction, agriculture, the pharmaceutical industry and by healthcare professionals against influenza viruses or respiratory illnesses and most recently the new coronavirus.
o FFP3: minimum filtration percentage of 99% and maximum 2% leakage to the inside; it is the most filtering mask of the FFPs and protects against very fine particles such as asbestos.
Full and Half Face Respirators
Both full face and half face, cover your mouth and nose and contain a built-in valve that helps you in breathing out and breathing in easily while keeping the contaminated air out of the mask. Filters, pre-filters and cartridges are attached to the mask from outside to capture gases, vapours and particles.
These masks are reusable and are best suited for industrial applications like – painting, heavy cleaning, welding, manufacturing works. These are the similarities but what are the differences between these 2 types of masks.
Full Face Respirators
A full face mask is apt in protecting your entire face and it provides better sealing as it seals around the entire face which is easier than sealing around nose and mouth. These masks are designed to protect the sensitive membranes of nose, eyes, throat and mouth. While doing, cutting, paintwork, spraying, or in an environment with fine or flying particles it will be better to use a full face respirator/mask to shield your entire face and provide eye protection.
Half Face Respirators
These are appropriate to use if there’s a requirement of wearing other protective equipment with it. If you wear prescriptive glasses then use half-face respirators. You don’t need to remove hard hats and these masks are compatible with a wide range of other protective equipment. Half face respirators cover only the lower half of the face, nose and mouth
So Which Mask Should You Choose?
Surgical Type IIR Masks
Use mainly in medical and healthcare environments where social distancing is generally possible and direct contact with others is limited - should not really be used for everyday general use
Fabric Face Covering
Use for low contact, non medical environments where social distancing is generally easy to maintain and there is no requirement for the job role in a H&S perspective. Great for general and everyday use.
N95 & KN95
Use in non-medical situations where there is a higher level of contact with others, where social distancing is not always possible and where the user wants a higher level of protection and the requirement is not for certified PPE
FFP2 & FFP3 Respirators
Use in Medical and Industrial type settings where certified PPE is required for H&S reasons as part of the role or risk assessment of the task being undertaken - not for everyday general use