As more and more businesses return to work, there has been much confusion about who should be wearing a face mask and which type of face mask is best. As an employer or HR manager, staff may look at you to clear up any confusion about which type of mask they should be wearing.
Protect The Wearer or Protect Others
There are 2 main purposes of masks and depending on which is required that helps dictate which should be used. If a mask is required to protect the wearer then the type of mask required is a respirator.
Respirators are generally designed to be tight fitting products and protect the wearer from inhaling airborne contaminants e.g. dusts, mists and fumes. Generally speaking, Respirators used in Europe must be certified to EN149. Typical ratings for disposable Respirators are FFP2 and FFP3.
Masks on the other hand are designed to protect those around the wearer. They help mitigate the spread of disease by reducing the distance airborne droplets will travel when the wearer speaks, coughs or sneezes. They are not designed to protect the wearer directly. Typically these are 3-ply Masks that have a very short service life, ideal for certain applications when reuse is not appropriate or required. There are also reusable cloth masks, some which have antibacterial properties. For more details on this see our guide.
In the UK, the respirators you will most commonly come across are FFP2 and FFP3. FFP2 respirators are the European equal to the N95 respirator mask commonly worn and used in the US. The highest level of protection is achieved by FFP3 masks, which are worn by the doctors and nurses fighting COVID-19 in the UK.
Read more about the different types of masks available in our get ready for work guide.
Which mask is best?
The HSE officially recommends "the use of an FFP3 for use against viruses". They recognise however that FFP3 needs to be reserved for the medical profession and strongly support the FFP2 as an alternative.
The WHO has also reminded employers that medical masks should be kept and reserved for healthcare workers and to seek alternatives for their employees/customers. An FFP2 mask is therefore considered the most appropriate option for many employers seeking to provide staff with protection.
Is wearing a mask necessary?
The WHO also states that "wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including COVID-19. However, the use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection, and other measures should also be adopted."
It is therefore essential to put other virus mitigation efforts in place, such as installing sanitation stations. It is also essential to ensure a mask is effective by properly using and disposing of it when necessary.
Top tips to give your employees wearing masks:
• Thoroughly wash your hands before placing your mask on your face
• Tie the mask securely to ensure it covers your mouth and nose
• Avoid touching the mask whilst wearing it
• Untie the mask from behind your face/ears, never pull the mask off from the front
• Wash your hands before and after removing your mask
• If a mask becomes damp or visibly dirty, replace the mask as soon as possible
• Never re-use a single-use mask
• Dispose of a single-use mask immediately after it is removed.
If your employees are using re-usable masks, you should provide them with 3 masks. This will allow them to wear a mask, have a spare and have one mask at home/while being cleaned.