01.04.20 COVID-19

How effective are facemasks?

There has been a growing trend to use face masks for protection against pollution and now it’s common to see people across the UK and the world using face masks to protect themselves from Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Over the last few weeks, we have seen medical masks, tight-fitting Filtering Facepiece (FF) respirators and many homemade face coverings. As experts in personal protective equipment, we can see facemasks being used incorrectly, making them ineffective, or at worst leaving the wearer at higher risk of contamination.

With so much confusion about personal protection, we want to provide reliable science-based information to help people understand how and when they need to use a facemask.

Will a facemask protect me?

Wearing face coverings in public, particularly in well-frequented locations such as shops and public transport is recommended in addition to current social distancing and hand-washing instructions. Face coverings can help reduce transmission of the virus in public, because people may unknowingly be infected and be spreading the virus in the air.

Healthcare workers

IOM are working with frontline healthcare workers that do need to wear facemasks.  In these cases, it is vital facemasks are correctly worn or they will not offer the protection they should. 

There are worrying reports, because of shortages of protective equipment, that masks are being reused and borrowed. So far there isn't any evidence to say masks can be effectively reused. Once surgical and FF masks are used they should be thrown away to avoid contamination.

Protecting the health of frontline workers will help us fight this fast-moving pandemic; they need the right equipment and they need to understand how to use it.

Wearing it well

Any organisation providing Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE), under COSHH (Control Of Substances Hazardous To Health) regulations, must ensure the wearer has been properly Fit tested.

This is to make sure that the RPE fits correctly to provide effective protection from hazardous substances and public health hazards such as flu viruses.

A correctly fitted mask with a seal, for example, the FFP disposable respirator, will offer protection to a certain extent.  However, without a wearer being Face Fit tested they are at risk of exposure because the mask could be the wrong size/shape for the face. Facial hair is another problem; any stubble or beard that sits between the mask and face makes the mask ineffective. 

Our trainers have more than 15 years’ experience delivering face fit services. The testing and training can take around 30 minutes per individual with the trainer providing full guidance and support on how to maximise their protection.  

Over the next few weeks as the ‘lock-down’ continues we will provide more training guidance online and via video to help people understand the importance of correctly fitted facemasks.


Guidance and helpful resources

IOM Face Fit services

WHO (World Health Organisation) give some great guidance, including when to wear a medical mask and how to use them. 

The UK HSE  

BSIF run the Fit2Fit Face Fit Testers accreditation scheme

And the BOHS Breathe Freely campaign can help

Effectiveness of face masks
An IOM study to understand ‘The Effectiveness of face masks used to protect Beijing residents against particulate air pollution’.