Coronavirus face masks: are they effective?

Outsource Safety LtdSafety newsCoronavirus face masks: are they effective?
March 18, 2020 Posted by Roger Hart

You only have to travel a short distance to see a number of people wearing a large range of different masks.  We’ve heard they can be a good idea, we even see hospital staff wearing them, but are they effective and should you and your staff be using them?

Coronavirus face masks: are they effective?

Coronavirus face masksTake a look at the image above and you will get a clearer idea of the relative size of the virus.  This is the size contained within a droplet or left on a surface which can then, once we touch our nose, eyes, mouth or face, transfer the virus into our bodies.

Certain types of coronavirus face masks can be effective in preventing us from inhaling particles of this size.  Think for example of respirable crystalline silica particles. These are considered very fine, 100x finer than the sand we might see commonly in use but that one means less than 10 microns (μm).

The particle size we are seeing here is much smaller again but, worn correctly, an FFP2 or FFP3 masks should be effective against it, a surgical type mask less so.  However….

  • How many of the people wearing these masks are wearing them correctly?
  • How many people have been face fitted for these masks?
  • How many have some level of stubble which compromises fit?
  • How many remove their mask and touch their face from time to time?
  • If you want to get really technical then have a look at this report; National Library of Medicine PMID: 16490606

In our experience, although the mask may be well fitted and technically capable of protecting the user other factors compromise its performance.  Think of the mask as another tool to prevent the spread of the virus but consider its use in a broader context – simple measures such as handwashing and good practice through not touching your face may be just as effective and perhaps more effective if you carry them out consistently.

One aspect which you may wish to consider is essential services, for example, a heating engineer attending a care home to complete vital works. In this case, you may wish to consider that wearing a mask will help prevent infection from a reverse viewpoint. A potential alternative are virushield snoods, these may be useable but assess the risk before you specify them.

If you are a Safety~net member we have a range of documents available including model risk assessments, flow charts on isolation and home working, toolbox talks for office-based and field-based staff and similar documents which are being developed each day.

If you have any questions relating to Coronavirus and your office please contact your retained safety consultant if you are a member of our Safety~net competent person service. We have a number of documents available for retained clients including model risk assessments, flow charts on isolation and home working, toolbox talks for office-based and field-based staff and similar documents which are being developed each day.

Resources;