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Face Coverings and Face Masks

Choosing between a Face Covering, Surgical Mask (Type II and IIR) or Particle/Dust Masks (FFP2 and FFP3)

It can be confusing to work out what type of face mask or face covering you need to buy in order to become more compliant with COVID-19 guidelines. This advice has been put together to help you choose the right level of protection, whether for your individual use or to ensure the safety of your employees.

Wearing a face mask or face covering can help protect against the transmission of infections by droplets and can help in the prevention of contamination by viruses such as COVID-19 (coronavirus).

Respiratory protection defined with the employer's risk assessment should continue to be used in the workplace.

Face Covering, Face Mask and Respirator (Dust Mask) Differences

It's important to distinguish between face coverings, face masks and PPE such as respirators.

Face Coverings
A face covering can be any covering of the mouth and nose, made of cloth or other textiles and through which an individual can breathe, they help to stop the spread of contaminants. Coverings are not manufactured to a recognised standard and do not require CE markings.
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Medical/Surgical Face Masks
Medical face masks are a loose-fitting disposable mask that creates a physical barrier between the wearer's nose and mouth to stop the spread of contaminants, they can also be resistant to fluid and splashes. These masks are manufactured to specifications for medical masks.
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Respirators/Dust Masks
A respiratory protective device is designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles. Also known as Filtering Face Piece they are manufactured to recognised standards for PPE and are classified as FFP1, FFP2, or FFP3.
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Why choose a Face Covering?
Environments for Use

All mandatory places: including all shops, supermarkets, shopping centres and transport hubs and where social distancing cannot be kept to the minimum distance.

Current evidence suggests that COVID-19 spreads between people through direct, indirect (through contaminated objects or surfaces), or close contact with infected people via mouth and nose secretions. When people talk, cough or sneeze small 'droplets' spread that can contain the COVID-19 virus, face coverings catch the droplets and help to prevent the spread of the virus.

It is recommended (also mandatory in certain areas) that a person wear a face covering in enclosed public spaces where social distancing may be difficult, and they may come into contact with people they do not normally meet.

A face covering can be any covering of the mouth and nose that is made of cloth or other textiles and through which an individual can breathe. It is important they securely fit round the side of the face. Religious face coverings that cover the mouth and the nose can count as face coverings. For those who are unable to wear face coverings, a face visor may be used, but it should cover the wearer's nose and mouth completely.

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Why choose a Medical/Surgical Face Mask? (Type II and Type IIR)
Environments for Use

All mandatory places: including all shops, supermarkets, shopping centres and transport hubs and where social distancing cannot be kept to the minimum distance. Also, medical, health care use, where specified.

Like face coverings medical face masks are recommended as a means of source control, i.e. they decrease the transmission of a virus by preventing the spread of respiratory 'droplets' produced by coughing or sneezing. However, unlike many face coverings they are manufactured to a recognised standard.

They are manufactured to specifications for medical/ surgical masks (which are medical devices in accordance with the EU Medical Device Regulations) and classified as Type I, Type II or Type IIR (IIR- Splash resistant).

Type II masks are divided according to their Splash Resistance Pressure which determines the mask's resistance level to potentially contaminated fluid splashes.

Type II face masks prevent the spread of respiratory droplets produced by coughing or sneezing.

Type IIR face masks are also splash resistant and are used in clinical settings to protect the wearer against splashes of blood or bodily fluids.

These are designed for single use only and must be disposed of safely after use.

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Why choose a FFP2 or FFP3 Mask?
Environments for Use

All environments where a risk assessment has taken place deeming necessary to use, this should also be followed up with a face fit test.

FFP2 and FFP3 masks protect those who wear them from inhaling 'droplets' and 'airborne' infectious particles.

Whilst the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends FFP3 as the control measure against viruses, the use of these may not be reasonably practicable as supplies can be low during this pandemic. Therefore, the HSE has undertaken a Rapid Evidence Review of the use of FFP2 masks (filtering at least 94% of airborne particles) and the evidence to support their use in the UK as part of the PPE ensemble worn for aerosol generating procedures on patients with COVID-19.

Recommended for use in healthcare situations when caring for patients with COVID-19.

FFP3 or FFP2 respirators must continue to be specified in sectors other than healthcare as they were previously.

If you are required to wear a FFP2 or FFP3 respirator then a face fit test is recommended to ensure you are fully compliant.

These are designed for single use only and must be disposed of safely after use.

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How to Use a Medical Mask or Face Covering

If you are issuing or using face masks or face coverings, you'll need to know the correct way to put on, take off and dispose of a face mask. Our easy to follow step by step illustrations will help you. This also applies to face coverings with the exception that most are reusable after washing.

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Additional Safety Measures

Along with masks, the risk of COVID-19 infection must also be carefully managed by the following controls in and out of the workplace:

  • Social distancing or, where that is not possible, reducing the number of people in the work area and inside locations
  • High standards of hand hygiene
  • Increasing surface washing
  • Assigning and keeping people to shift teams
  • Using signs, screens and barriers to separate people from each other
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