PPE: How fabric face masks will aid in limiting the spread of COVID-19
12 May, 2020

We understand there have been mixed messages regarding face masks’ effectiveness, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has made it clear they are effective, provided users follow certain principles when they wear them.

Although it is the last step in the hierarchy of controls, there is no doubt that PPE that is used correctly will aid in reducing the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. However, due to a global shortage in suitably approved PPE (especially respirators and surgical masks), our government and research agencies have determined that using fabric face masks by the general public will still contribute to reducing transmissions. With that, let’s continue with our current series in preparing employees’ return to work, this time focused on the habits we must all adopt and adapt to in order to wear face masks correctly.

Keep in mind, fabric face masks will not prevent the spread of COVID-19

BUT, these masks may reduce the number of large droplets that are transmitted into the nearby environment from coughing and sneezing. Having said this, wearing these must still be done in tandem with the practice of regularly washing hands, coughing/sneezing into a tissue or elbow, refraining from touching your face, and social distancing.

When wearing a fabric face mask, remember to do the following to reduce the risk of becoming infected:

  • Wash your hands before putting on the mask.
  • Ensure that the face mask has been washed and disinfected before use. Warm soapy water should be sufficient, and iron the mask when it has dried.
  • Do not touch the inner side of the mask with your hands.
  • The mask should cover your nose and mouth completely, and have a snug/tight fit.
  • You must not touch the face mask while you are wearing it; avoid fidgeting with your mask at all costs.
  • Do not lower the face mask while wearing it, especially when speaking, coughing or sneezing.
  • You should remove the mask without touching the inner or outer parts of the mask. For effective removal, use the attachment bands at all times.
  • Wash your hands after removing the face mask.

Fabric face masks should consist of at least a double layer of fabric. However, you may add a third layer.

You can’t simply provide PPE

Keep in mind that understanding PPE’s function and how to use it correctly is essential to using it, as this is how you avoid unwanted exposures that can be prevented with sufficient training/information. What is a good first step is understanding the correct way a fabric mask should be designed. Although you may not be making the mask yourself, the following information will help you assess whether the mask your supplier is providing has been manufactured according to what government has recommended and regulated.

The correct way to design your fabric face masks

Here are the guidelines for fabric face mask design –as recommended by the South African Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (dtic)…

  • Mask style and design features will contribute to user fit and should follow closely the contours of the face, especially around the nose bridge and under the chin to reduce leakage out and into the mask.
  • A wire insert, in the middle of the mask, which sits over the nose bridge area of mask, will allow you to mould the shape of the mask around the nose bridge for a closer fit.
  • Comfortable elastic bands/or cloth tie-straps of adequate size and shape for attachment either around the ears or the head should mean a comfortable fit.
  • Further adjustments to the dimension of this elastic/cloth tie-straps will enhance fit for more users permitting flexibility in the adjustment.
  • The ties or elastics used to fit the mask to the face should not be designed in a way that the wearer needs to touch the front of the mask.
  • Masks should be comfortable to wear. Fabrics selection should consider performance properties such as moisture management and thermal discomfort.
  • Discomfort will undermine your health, by promoting the need to touch the face and remove or adjust the mask during wear.
  • Bearing in mind that different fabric constructions and innovations allow for different properties and functions, there is merit in a mask designed from at least two layers of suitable fabric or three layers of such fabric (two layers plus an extra third barrier/filtration layer in the centre).
  • Masks must be designed to fit properly, ideally covering at least 50% of the length of the nose and fit to 25 mm under the chin. A guideline for the adult size of pleated mask designs is 180 mm for the width and 160 mm for the length (maximum unpleated length).
  • Additionally, manufacturers should indicate sizing of masks (adults: S/M/L/XL; children: S/M/L).
  • Children’s sizes can be considered by downsizing the adult sizes until further anthropometric data is available to guide a more informed decision.
  • The suggested size for the removable filter is 120 x 100 mm.
  • It is useful to provide markings or features that help the wearer to distinguish between the inner layer and outer layer of the mask in order to prevent wearers from placing the wrong side against their faces.
  • Special needs may arise within some groups of society (such as hearing-impaired individuals who rely on lip reading), whose needs should also be considered when making masks.
  • Other users, such as children and those wearing spectacles, should also be considered.
  • Fabric face masks for different seasons and climates must also be considered.
  • When adjusting to climate and seasonal needs, the fabric used should follow recommended guidelines – adjustments must not compromise fabric functionality as described in the guidelines.

If yours is one of the businesses that has begun the systematic process of reopening your doors, and you need assistance in preparing both your employees and premises for new safeguards, let us help you:

  • COVID-19 Employee Induction Training
  • COVID-19 Employer Implementation Training
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