As the UK begins to move out of its lockdown phase of the coronavirus outbreak, it is very likely that the wearing of face masks will become more widespread, if not mandatory in certain environments. But what kind should you wear?
When choosing what kind of face covering to wear, people should consider the environment in which they will be when they are wearing them, the length of time they are spending there and the number of other people who will be present in that space. It is important to remember that the primary purpose of a face covering is to protect others; to stop the spread of the virus from someone who may be carrying it but who does not display symptoms. While decreasing the risk of catching Covid-19 by as much as five times, face masks do not afford complete protection, and anyone in a high risk group should not see masks as their ticket to liberty from lockdown.
There are two EU classification standards regarding face masks, one for surgical masks (EN 14683) and one for respirators (EN 149: 2001). Surgical masks are tested according to their capacity to filter bacterial droplets from the inside of the mask to the outside, and receive a grading of Type I, II and IIR, with three levels of bacterial filtration efficiency.
Rapid has stock of Type I and Type IIR medical masks and this kind of mask may be suitable for use in shops, supermarkets and public transport where social distancing may not be practical or enforceable.
Respiratory face masks or filtering facepiece masks are graded according to the European Union’s EN 149 standard on protection against particulates, which includes dust and airborne viruses. The three classes are FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3.
FFP1 graded masks are those associated with use by tradesmen and for cleaning and general use. Their primary purpose is as a protection against dust. These are the kind of masks that would generally be worn for DIY and is unsuitable where there is risk of fluid exposure, aerosol transmission or close contact with others. FFP1 face masks offer the lowest level of protection from Covid-19, with a Bacterial Filtration Efficiency (BFE) of 80%. This means that up to 20% of respiratory droplets may not be held within the mask.
FFP2 FFP2 masks filter at least 94% of airborne particles and offers the wearer a much higher degree of respiratory protection from airborne viruses such as Covid-19. Type I, II and IIR surgical masks conforming to EN 14683 fall into this class. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the use of FFP2 masks for healthcare workers and the NHS also state that FFP2 masks provide protection of the respiratory system. They are recommended for use by the WHO during outbreaks of SARS, avian flu and coronavirus.
With a BFE of at least 99% and an internal leak rate of less than 2%, FFP3 masks offer the highest level of protection against particle transmission. All FFP3 masks feature moulded construction, reducing the risk of particle ingress that may be possible through loose fitting equipment.
Many FFP3 masks will contain an exhalation valve but it should be noted that this brings the very real risk of pathogens being exhaled to other people or surfaces in close proximity. In these circumstances, people who could be asymptomatic with Covid-19 should not wear a mask with an exhalation valve.
Rapid has sourced a range of disposable face masks for use in particular environments and risk levels. The following are now in stock:
Our dedicated Workplace Safety site provides access to a wide range of equipment and products that can help businesses, schools and other organisations adapt to the new circumstances in a way that protects staff, keeps premises clean and maintains social distancing.