What is the Difference Between Face Masks, Respiratory Face Masks and Face Shields? (including N95, KN95, FFP2, FFP3 and IIR)

It is hard to think of coronavirus without thinking of face masks and preventing the transmission of the now-infamous Covid-19 strain through the air. ‘Self-isolating’, ‘social distancing’, ‘stay at home’, are all phrases we did not know in 2019 but are all too familiar with this year.

With the coronavirus pandemic still a global concern, the government has advised us to ‘be alert’ but, with a worsening economy and a threat to jobs across the country, the time is drawing closer for those that cannot work from home to return to work as soon as possible. This means, that companies all over the UK, not just the medical profession and certain construction, engineering and manufacturing industries, now need to acquire an understanding for PPE, and quickly. So, what does an average business need to do to adhere to government safeguarding guidelines for coronavirus? What can be done to protect yourself and workers? What PPE terminology do you need to understand and what products do you need to buy to ensure your safety and the safety of others? Let’s start here, with face masks.

What Are the Best Face Masks for Covid-19?

There are several types of face masks from ordinary ones people sew at home to certified top-grade respiratory masks. The most common medical masks in the UK and EU for recommended use in preventing coronavirus are the IIR Surgical Mask, the FFP2 Respiratory Mask and the FFP3 Respiratory Mask, the differences of which are detailed below.

What Are IIR Surgical Masks (also known as Type II Medical Masks)?

IIR Surgical Masks are non-sterile, single-use medical masks commonly used in surgery. The IIR or ‘type II’ (pronounced 2) are splash resistant or ‘fluid resistant’ (usually up to 120mmHg), made of polypropylene non-woven fabric with a water-repellent layer (or similar) and usually offer a high filtration rating (amount of virus particles that don’t get through the mask) of up to 98%. This is usually described as <98% BFE (BFE stands for Bacterial and Viral Filtration Efficiency). They should comply to EN 14683:2019 and be exempt from VAT in the UK. The 3-ply design looks like three folds and to make a fully enclosed nose and mouth band that can be moulded to the wearer’s face. They need to be fitted closely to the face, with beards and stubble removed.

These masks, along with FFP2, are suitable for most keyworkers and businesses such as manufacturing but not NHS workers. They are a good option for frontline workers who are in contact with a lot of different people such as delivery drivers.

What are FFP2, N95 and KN95 Respiratory Face Masks?

FFP2 masks are a type of respiratory mask and are effectively the EU equivalent of the US version, N95 mask and the Chinese version, the KN95 mask. Each mask is named differently due to the fact that they will have undergone slightly different testing and do conform to slightly difficult regulations as determined by the manufacturing country (or in the UK’s case, the EU). However, to be sold in the UK, these masks should be certified to EN149:2001 + A1:2009 regulations and should offer up to 95% Filtration. FFP2 masks offer more protection than FFP1 masks.

Respiratory masks fit tightly around your nose and mouth, making them less comfortable to wear (a recommend stint is 30 minutes). They are thicker than normal medical masks and need to be fitted properly (beards and stubble needs to ideally be shaved off). As they can last over a week (but they need to be disposed of as soon as they get wet or dirty), they are more ideally suited to use on public transport, office and working environments, manufacturing and distribution centres and for shorter periods of potential contact time.

Most manufacturers would recommend wearing each mask for approximately eight hours total wear or until the mask becomes hard to breathe in.

What Is the Difference Between FFP2 and FFP3 Respiratory Masks?

FFP3 Respiratory Masks (Disposable Dust Respirators) protect against respiratory-borne pathogens including dust. They conform to EN 149:2001+A1:2009 regulations and offer more protection than FFP2 respiratory masks. FFP2 masks usually have an Assigned Protection Factor (APF) rating of 10 whereas FFP3 masks have a APF rating of 20. Offering the highest level of protection, FFP3 are substantially more high-grade than FFP1 and can block both liquid and solid aerosols.

Current NHS guidelines insist upon the use of FFP3 masks for virus and bacterial infection-control, making them the NHS choice for coronavirus. They are also the only option for healthcare professionals who may handle potentially harmful chemicals.

What Type of Face Mask Do I Need for Preventing Coronavirus?

Any face mask or covering will help to prevent the spread of coronavirus more than not wearing any form of protection. However for businesses, public transport and out and about in populated areas, we recommend K95, FFP2 and IIR masks. For NHS workers, people in care or people in potential contact with coronavirus patients or vulnerable people ,we recommend FFP3 respiratory masks.

Can Wearing a Normal Face Mask Protect From Coronavirus? What Are My Options?

As the corona virus spreads through the passing of coughs, sneezes and fluids, a regular, loose-fitting face mask can help to prevent some of the spread of covid19. However, unlike official medical and respiratory face masks, the filtration levels and how well they work will differ greatly and is unknown. For personal use out and about, these might be a good option, but if you are at work with other people often or use public transport, you may want to consider certified masks that are made for the purpose of infection-control.

Please note that regular face masks, like higher-grade masks, will need to be disposed of or washed after every use.

Face Mask Vs. Face Covering: What is the Difference?

Face masks are manufactured and certified for the specific use of offering protection. Face coverings are made by anyone to provide some protection without guidelines. Using a face covering is better than using no protection but nowhere near as effective as a certified face mask. If you do not need a certain level of protection for work or public transport, you can see how to make your own coronavirus face covering.

Where to Buy PPE Masks for Covid19?

There are a lot of different suppliers and manufacturers selling PPE. Our website Uniforms4Healthcare has a specific Covid-19 section which you can browse for affordable, high-quality PPE.

Read Next:

When, Where and Why you Should be Wearing a Face Covering

How to Effectively Wear a Face Mask or Covering

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