With the huge upsurge in demand for face masks since the outbreak of Coronovirus in early 2020, a shortage of supply has resulted in many types of face mask being offered for sale in the UK and globally.

Different kinds of face masks provide different levels of protection against the spread of the Covid 19 virus, and not all are certified for use in the UK workplaces, so knowing the pros and cons of the various types of virus protection masks offered is important.

If the face mask you buy is not CE marked, including the Notified Body Number, it is illegal to use it in the workplace, and supplying or selling face masks that don't have correct accreditation could lead to a very substantial lawsuit, as outlined in more detail below.

Face masks for sale on Amazon or Ebay do not necessarily have the right certification for workplace or medical use. Ensure you buy your face mask from a reputable supplier who is willing to provide the necessary documentation.

Whilst there are currently no legal requirements in the UK governing face masks for personal use (e.g. when out and about in parks or shopping), you may be interested to learn below which types of face mask protect you the best from viruses like Covid 19.


What different type of Face Masks are there?

There are many different names and reference numbers for the different masks of face masks, but they broadly fall into 4 main categories, with different subsets within those categories.

The 4 main types of Face Mask used for virus protection are:

  1. Surgical Masks
  2. Dust Masks FFP1, FFP2, FFP3 (or N95 Respirators)
  3. Washable, Reusable 3 ply Face Masks (or Barrier Masks)
  4. Homemade Cloth Masks


Surgical Masks

These masks are a loosely fitting design that covers the nose, mouth & chin and generally hooks around the ears. They are disposable & designed to:

  • Protect the wearer from large droplets, splashes and spills
  • Protect others from airborne particles from the wearer caused by coughs & sneezes

They are in short supply & should be reserved for frontline workers including medical staff & carers. Only wear a surgical mask if you have the virus or caring for someone who is not able to wear a mask. Do not reuse them. Take great care to dispose of them carefully.


Dust Masks FFP1, FFP2, FFP3 (or N95 Respirators)

These are much more close fitting and are designed to protect the wearer from splashes & spills but also, they will filter out from 80-99% of small particles, including viruses if you select the most protective grade of dust mask which is the FFP3 face mask. Dust mask type face masks should seal around the edge, preventing any dust (or viruses) creeping into the filtered air section behind the mask. They come in many different shapes and styles. Some masks include valves to avoid heat build-up.

These respirators should, again, be reserved for the frontline workers, at least until stock becomes more plentiful again.


Washable, Reusable 3 Ply Fabric Masks (Barrier masks)

These masks have been designed due to the shortage of Surgical masks & FFP2 masks. They are designed to be worn by healthy people & ideal for the general public to wear as they do give some form of protection. Made from cotton, they are machine washable at 60 degrees Celsius and fully reusable. It is not mandatory in the UK to wear a mask in public, but it may well happen. This is a good solution as people would only need two or three each rather than a new one each day. Medical workers are required to wear certified disposable masks so, this would not interfere with their supplies either.

Because washable face masks are re-usable, whilst they may cost slightly more than disposable face masks to start with, but in the long term, a fabric face mask is a cost-saving investment.

 

Homemade cloth masks

This is also recommended as a suitable solution for the general public. A simple homemade cotton cloth mask provides some protection in the case where the wearer may have the virus or it is uncertain. It doesn’t provide protection against the virus.


The above list of face mask types is not exhaustive, and persons should seek proper medical advice. It is intended as a guide to help people make a decision that protects both themselves, those around them & the nations frontline workers.


Best Face Masks for Coronavirus – for personal use

Bearing in mind that Surgical Masks and FFP3 Masks are reserved for frontline workers right now, the best face mask if you are not a frontline worker is probably the washable and re-usable 3-ply fabric face masks.

Home-made face masks may work OK, but that will be down to the skill of the maker and the templates used, the protection offered by various home made face masks patterns can vary greatly.

The WHO (World Health Organisation) Website offers further information for the general public on when and how to wear face masks.


Face Masks For Sale UK

Encompass are pleased to have sourced a high-quality range of 3ply Medical Protective Face Masks, and are able to offer these for sale at a competitive price in spite of the lack of supply.

Visit our reusable face masks shopping page to purchase these face masks - available from stock today, from a UK supplier with fast next day delivery options!


Thinking of selling face masks? Legislation surrounding the sale of Face Masks in the UK - CE Marking and EN Regulations:

You will want to be very careful if you're thinking of selling or promoting PPE in the current crisis – in particular RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment).  In the UK and EU, all RPE is classified as ‘High Risk Category III PPE’ and falls under the PPE Regulation 2016/425, embedded in statute as law. Due to RPE’s ‘High Risk’ PPE classification, both the importer and on-seller have a responsibility to ensure due diligence on the product/supply chain is done, and therefore ultimately take responsibility and legal liability for the product.

All PPE (incl. RPE) must be supplied with instructions for use and be appropriately tested and marked with a CE mark, including Notified Body Number. It must also be supplied with a Declaration of Conformity or a link to a website where a Declaration of Conformity can be downloaded. Without these, the product is illegal to use as protective equipment in the workplace. Be aware, just because it says it complies on the box or product, or somebody says it’s compliant, doesn’t mean it is valid and legal.

There are a huge number of counterfeit products being offered from China as being fit for use in the UK and claiming to be certified. Of particular concern, however – the KN95 is a Chinese Domestic standard for masks and does not correlate with EN149:2001.

It's straightforward; if offered KN95 on its own or with any mixed up or unclear description claiming they match FFP2, FFP3 or EN149, DO NOT BUY THEM WITHOUT CHECKING VERY CAREFULLY AS THEY COULD BE ILLEGAL.

The UK has adopted EU Regulation 2020/403 that enables certain overseas PPE to be assessed by an EU PPE Scoped Notified body and fast-tracked into the UK supply chain for NHS/Government or other recognised Healthcare providers only. This allows the correct expert body to make the right call and not some commercial operator who wants a quick sale. They will have a limited time placed on the certification/approval as it is expressly designed to assist with the current Coronavirus pandemic. Don’t be deceived by spurious documentation. Please have it checked very thoroughly first. This also applies to American standards e.g. masks N95 or N99. There are many being offered, many of which are good products, but unless they have been approved by an EU PPE Notified Body scoped for PPE Regulation 2016/425 it is not legal to supply them as PPE or RPE in the UK or EU.

RPE or PPE supplied without correct accreditation could lead to a very substantial lawsuit.  

See the gov.uk website for further information.


Conclusion

Who could have ever predicted the change that has come into every life and every household in the UK and, indeed, in most countries across the globe? This is a time that will go down in the history books as a virtually unforeseen crisis yet an interruption on a global scale that is totally unprecedented. Most of us never saw it coming, but it has come and every day is bringing fresh challenges for us.

One of the many challenges about this present Covid 19, coronavirus pandemic is that we are all thinking about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and it can all be quite confusing. Safety is paramount and it necessary for everyone to wear the right level of protection when leaving the home.

Of course, the most effective way to contain the virus is to stay at home. This has brought about the current lockdown, which the UK population has responded well to. However, as time moves on & people start to go back to work and more shops reopen then the need for the right protection becomes more important, to prevent the virus spreading rapidly again.

We trust that the above guide proves helpful in selecting the right kind of face mask for your specific requirements, and helps you avoid the potential pitfalls.