Choosing the right face mask to protect against Covid-19

With face masks compulsory in the United Kingdom for all individuals using public transport or entering shops, there has been growing awareness of the invaluable role which face coverings can play, in reducing the spread of Coronavirus.  Shop workers will now also have to wear a face covering, along with bar staff, waiters and taxi drivers.

We want to keep our customers as safe as possible, during this unprecedented period, through the provision of expert guidance on the core steps to be taken, to inhibit the spread of the virus, and use the ideal suite of Personal Protective Equipment to keep businesses operational, customers safe, and lockdown periods reduced or eliminated.

We’ve produced this guide to wearing face masks in the fight against Covid-19, to afford your team and your customers the most up-to-date advice about when to wear a mask, which one to select, and how to use it to maximise its effectiveness in the prevention of infection.

Maintaining a reliable, steady supply in times of global demand

SMI has successfully continued to trade even in these unprecedented times, with nations globally struggling to procure effective Personal Protective Equipment. Through increasing our global supply chain significantly, investing in £3.5m of stock to weather fluctuations in demand, and manufacturing our own products in house, we have been able to maintain service levels through reliable supply.

Overcoming the risks of uncertified Personal Protective Equipment

As frontline providers of safety products, SMI is always vigilant in ensuring that the products which we supply and manufacture on behalf of our customers is fully compliant with all required legislation for which each product is applicable. We are members of BSiF – the UK trade organisation – and certified Registered Safety Suppliers with the RSSS.

How to choose the right mask for protection against Covid-19

Making sure that you select the perfect category and classification of mask is a critical element of your wider pandemic safeguarding and management. Ill-fitting masks are not effective in protecting against the virus, and serve to bring additional negatives including being uncomfortable or suitable for your staff – significantly reducing morale. Having to wear a mask is often a source of discomfort for individuals, as they become accustomed to the ‘new normal’, so it’s really important that face coverings are comfortable and fit each member of your team comfortably.

The following flow chart is designed to enable you to choose the perfect mask for you and your team’s needs, to maximise safety, fitness for purpose, comfort and protection:

The following guidance provides an overview of the types of mask available, and which settings they are most suitable to be used in.

A word of caution for our customers

Please note that since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a significant influx of non-compliant respiratory protection. Demand for face coverings drove immoral manufacturers to increase production of non-compliant products such as the KN95 mask.

These masks are not certified, and do not hold the required CE marking which denotes them as being fit for purpose. Often, the paperwork accompanying KN95 masks are fraudulent, meaning that customers have no way of knowing whether the mask is able to provide the required degree of protection against transmission and infection with Covid-19.

We would urge all of our customers to be vigilant against procuring non-standard and approved items. All masks sold by SMI will be provided with the appropriate paperwork which attests to its safety, durability and fitness for deployment as recommended. This includes evidencing that the CE marking is genuine, and the product is compliant with the essential requirements proscribed by the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations EU 2016/425.

Categories of face mask available

Type II Face Masks

Type II masks are designed for short term deployment, and are only meant to be worn once. They are made from woven material, and fit loosely to create a barrier which prevents the individual from exhaling droplets which may spread transmission of Covid-19. They also protect the wearer from external contaminants by covering the nose over the bridge, and the mouth. They usually feature ear loops or straps which are used to ensure a close fit over the bridge of the nose, and under the chin.

These masks are not suitable for protecting against inhaled fumes, and do not offer a fully-sealed coverage of the nose and mouth, which means that they do not prevent inhalation of small particle aerosols. They are optimised for use by infected individuals, as they prevent droplets being transferred to others. The masks are ideal for use in clinical settings where there is no risk of infection through bodily fluids or blood-borne pathogens. They are also the recommended choice for use on public transport and when entering shops and other indoor spaces, in conjunction with social distancing.

Many people may become infected with Covid-19 and remain asymptomatic, so these face coverings provide a front-line defence in stemming transmission, by affording basic protection when in communal areas such as shops.

Type IIR Masks

IIR masks are another category of loose-fitting, woven products which are designed to be used once, and then discarded. They are ideal for use in the clinical setting, to protect the wearer against exposure to droplets, but as with the Type II category of mask, they are not suitable for guarding against risks posed by inhalation of particle aerosols, or droplets infected with the virus. Type IIR masks feature a splash-resistant surface, which makes them appropriate for use when protecting against contaminating other individuals when worn.

They are most commonly used in care settings with communal spaces, but not suited for use when having close patient contact. They are also suitable for shared environments such as prisons and by police or security guards, and first responders in medical scenarios.

Non-Surgical Masks

Non-surgical reusable face masks are the Personal Protective Equipment of choice for use in a range of scenarios including use by individuals entering retail environments, and on public transport. The material face coverings feature ear loops or straps which secure them over the mouth and nose. They prevent the wearer from infecting others by releasing contaminated respiratory droplets. Usually manufactured using woven fabric, they are designed to be deployed in communal environments where social distancing cannot be effectively observed.

This category of mask is not effective in the clinical environment, as they do not afford full protection from Covid-19 if the clinician is caring for infected patients. These masks are designed to be laundered following manufacturer guidelines to maintain effective for each repeated use.


Respirator Masks

Respirator masks are also known as Filtering Face Piece masks. They are classified under categories FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3. The masks are designed to create a seal around the nose and mouth, which is able to filter out hazardous substances including contaminated droplets and airborne particles. They are instrumental in preventing individuals infected with the Covid-19 virus from passing the disease on to others, as they effectively create a barrier which prevents droplets from being spread. Their effectiveness when being worn needs to be checked by a seal test, to ensure that the mask is fitted correctly.

Respirator masks are ideal for use when healthcare professionals care for individuals infected with Coronavirus, or in environments where the deployment of FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 face protection is recommended due to the presence of hazardous substances. They are not recommended for use by the general public, as they provide an enhanced level of protection which is usually only required by healthcare workers and clinicians in the hospital setting, or by first responders to medical emergencies.

Taking care of your face mask

Follow the guidelines below to properly take care of your face mask, to keep it in optimum condition for long-term use:

  • Maintain PPE in a safe, dry and clean storage area
  • Adhere to all recommendations provided by the manufacturer of the item
  • Replace parts with an equivalent-quality compatible element
  • Do not attempt complex repairs – leave that to the manufacturer
  • Maintain replacement PPE to minimise disruption through products at the end of their natural lifecycle
  • Clean and disinfect items according to the specific instructions from the manufacturer
  • Check items regularly for signs of wear and tear, or accidental damage
  • Store safely protecting from dust, chemicals, damp, and light, maintaining a constant temperature
  • When placing items into storage, stand so that the item is in a normal position, to prevent it from losing its shape.

We are here to help – your partners in safety

At SMI, we understand that the Covid-19 pandemic has created significant additional challenges for our customers in all sectors. We’d like to take the opportunity to offer you our support, should you require guidance in keeping your team, customers and/or patients safe during this difficult period. Get in touch with us at any time, and we’ll do all we can to offer you the latest best practice in handling the pandemic situation, and ensuring you have the guidance, recommendations, and compliant Personal Protective Equipment to stay safe.