The coronavirus pandemic means face masks have become more commonplace across most of public life. Workers across all sectors have guidelines for what personal protective equipment they should wear during and when travelling to and from work.
The wide variety of face protection means it can be challenging to know where to use each type of mask. This article outlines what each kind of mask is designed for; it’ll cover everything from what an FFP3 face mask is to surgical types and the difference between them.
If you’d like to understand more about how our more comprehensive range of PPE can help to keep you safe, read our latest blog post on NHS PPE.
What is the difference between face coverings, face masks and face respirators?
Face coverings simply denote a piece of fabric that covers the nose and mouth. They are not classed as personal protective equipment (PPE) and therefore don’t need to conform to any manufacturing standards. Coverings are sometimes transparent to aid communication for the hard of hearing.
Face masks are PPE designed to be worn in medical settings to reduce the spread of infection. They differ from face coverings in being manufactured to specific standards, of which there are several recognised classifications. Face masks are not tested on the protection they offer to the wearer, but instead are tested on their efficacy in preventing the wearer from spreading infection.
Face respirators are PPE designed to protect the wearer from toxic or infectious airborne particles. Respirators fit snugly to the face to create an airtight seal.
What is the protective value of different face masks?
There are many different classifications of face masks, they include:
Type I & Type IR Face Masks
Type I and Type IR face masks have a BFE (bacterial filtration efficiency) of 95%, which means they filter out at least 95% of airborne bacteria particles. Tested based on exhalation, they stop the wearer from infecting the environment but do not guarantee the wearer protection.
Type II & Type IIR Face Masks
Type II & Type IIRface masks have a higher BFE than Type I masks of 98%. Type II masks consist of at least a 4-ply construction, which filters out particles from contaminating the patient or surrounding environment. These are known as ‘surgical face masks’ and are worn in medical settings.
What does the ‘R’ in Type IR & Type IIR face masks stand for?
Both Type I and Type II face masks come in a fluid-resistant form denoted by the R in their names. These masks offer a splash-resistant layer to protect the wearer from bodily fluids such as blood.
What are FFP face masks?
FFP stands for ‘filtering face piece’ and is a European classification of face masks designed to protect the wearer from airborne particles. FPP masks conform to EU regulation EN 149: 2001 and come in three categories denoting their protection level: FFP1, FFP2 & FFP3.
FFP1 masks offer a basic level of protection to the wearer from non-toxic airborne substances like pollen and dust. They are designed for low-risk jobs such as household DIY and cannot protect against infectious substances.
FFP2 type masks offer the wearer a BFE of 94% with a maximum leakage to the inside of 8% and can protect the wearer from harmful airborne particles. This type of mask is often used in the medical sector to protect staff from outbreaks of influenza and coronavirus.
FFP3 respirators offer a higher level of protection with a BFE of 99% and a maximum leakage of 2% to the inside. These fit snugly to the wearer’s face and typically have a valve to reduce moisture build-up on the inside. As a result, they tend to be worn when handling asbestos.
N95 masks are the US equivalent of the European FFP2 face mask. N95 masks cannot legally be recommended for use in Europe due to the difference in testing standards. However, a shortage of PPE due to the COVID-19 pandemic has seen some being used.
Where can I buy FFP3 face masks in the UK?
You can buy FFP3 face masks in the UK from Alexandra.co.uk. Alexandra Workwear is a supplier of PPE and uniforms to the NHS and stocks a wide range of face masks. Our range includes masks to FFP3, FFP2, Type II and Type IIR standards.
While not recommended during a surplus of PPE, SAGE recommends N95 masks can be reused up to five times when there is a shortfall. Before reuse, masks must be checked for soiling or contamination from infectious substances then adequately rotated and cleaned following the proper process.
What are the side effects of wearing a mask for 8 hours?
Face masks are designed to be safely worn for long periods where needed. Healthcare professionals have worn masks each shift for years with few side effects. However, a recent study into long-term face mask use suggests they can cause non-severe side effects such as rashes, itching and increased fatigue.
What is the difference between KN95 and FFP2 masks?
KN95 filtering facepiece respirators are face masks tested to a Chinese standard. They are broadly similar to the European Standard FFP2 face masks and US standard N95 face masks, which means they offer the wearer protection against infectious airborne particles.
Why do some face masks have a little plastic piece?
Face masks made to an FFP3 standard often have a plastic vent on the front of them. As these masks fit snugly to the face to keep the wearer safe from inhaling infectious particles, moisture would quickly build up within the mask if it weren’t for the vent.
Are surgical and N95 masks effective for children?
Studies have shown that face coverings and face masks to surgical, FFP2 and N95 standards effectively protect children aged 2+ from infectious substances. However, children below the age of two should not wear face coverings or masks due to the risk of suffocation.
What is a respirator mask?
Respirator masks are a tight-fitting kind of face mask that creates an airtight seal around the face. A respirator is designed to offer the highest level of protection from toxic airborne particles, such as dust, viruses, bacteria and fungal spores. FFP3 masks are respirators.
When is the best time to wear a face mask?
Masks should be worn before entering an environment where there is a risk of infection either from the wearer to the environment or from the environment to the wearer. During the coronavirus pandemic, examples of such an environment include medical settings, public transport and offices.
If you need to purchase a face mask for your work or personal life, visit Alexandra Workwear. We offer a wide range of face protection, including face masks to FFP2, FFP3, Type II & Type IIR standards. We also provide a more comprehensive range of PPE, including disposable aprons and Stay Safe kits for safer commuting.