Face Coverings – what you need to know about face masks….

With so many companies and retail outlets now selling PPE, we explore what customers should look out for to get the right products. Fake certification, poor quality products and unethcial sourcing can all be at play when buying PPE. It is important to understand what PPE does and does not do for the wearer and those around them.

Let’s start with the basics

What does PPE stand for?

PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment. This means any device or appliance designed to be worn or held by an individual for protection against one or more health and safety hazards. 

What is not PPE?

This is actually simple but we believe misleading. It’s anything that doesn’t have a CE mark and not manufactured to normalised standards. For instance, during COVID-19 the face covering has become more common, a face covering is not PPE. Only CE marked items can be sold in the UK as PPE. There is one exception, when HSE or the Government perform tests for the use in healthcare settings (an example is the ClearMask).

Here is an example of face covering that is not classed as PPE:

Face Covering

Face Covering

Face coverings, sometimes referred to as fashion masks, come in all shapes and sizes with different levels of protection. When worn correctly, they can reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 and other airborne viruses. 

How do you choose what is best for you?  

Cloth face masks are typically described as 1-ply, 2-ply, 3-ply etc, as the name suggests, there are layers of ”ply”. A “ply” is a layer of material , the number of “plys” tells you how many layers are used. Masks or face coverings that are 2-ply and 3-ply provide more protection when compared to the basic 1-ply.  

How can you tell if a mask is 2 ply or 3 ply?

As the name implies, a 3Ply mask has three layers. So, cut it open and make sure there are 3 layers. The main difference is the middle layer of a surgical mask, which is a melt-blown fabric, not made with paper. We recommend looking at the packaging for the EN14683:2019 standard for confirmation and CE marking.

How long before I need to wash my mask or reuse it?

That depends on the mask, so always follow the manufacturers instructions. As an example, the Portwest 3PLY CV33 reusable mask , has anti-microbial finish Texpel MicroTM, kills 99.9% of bacteria. These masks are reusable and machine washable at 60 degrees. We recommend washing after each use, as currently there are no definitative timescales on when coronavirus dies on surfaces.

3PLY Civilian and Surgical Masks

3PLY Type 1 mask
Civilian 3PLY mask 95% BFE

It is easy to see why people get confused or expect a level of protection that is not actually provided.

The Civilian 3PLY is now typically sold in retail outlets and provide 95% bacterial filtration efficiency. Therefore, 5% of the time your droplets escape and you breathe in others. However, the Type IIR 3PLY mask is 98% bacterial efficient, and is typically used in medical settings. In other words, you would be forgiven to think your high street version is the same as the one you see doctors wearing.

Both should conform to EN14683:2019 standards and have a CE marking on the packaging, if it doesn’t then they are not genuine. However, in terms of PPE, only the Type IIR 3ply comply to the required level for protection in healthcare settings, first responders and high risk environments.

Face coverings: how the regulations apply to people who are deaf or have hearing loss

A good example of how PPE and risk is considered relates to the ClearMask, the transparent mask that help those with hearing impairment.

Many of the 12 million people who are deaf or have hearing loss in the UK rely on facial expressions and lipreading to communicate, so COVID-19 and the subsequent regulations has meant a need for clear masks.

Nurses across the UK are set to have access to clear face masks in a bid to improve communication with individuals who rely on lip reading and facial expressions, during the coronavirus pandemic

“The introduction of clear face masks will help overcome some of the difficulties carers wearing PPE [personal protective equipment] are facing communicating with people who rely on lip reading.”

Minister for care Helen Whately


Firstly, personal protective equipment does not mean you are safe, it just means there is a reduced probability of harm. Secondly, the severity remains the same. PPE is a way of reducing the likelihood of harm.

Other factors that reduce or increase the likelihood of harm:

  • It is ineffective if not working or fitted properly
  • Theoretical levels of protection are seldom reached in practice
  • The use of PPE always restricts the wearer to some degree
  • The psychological effect of PPE may be such that the individual wearing it feels more protected than they are

If you must perform the activities, tasks or functions, then wearing PPE correctly will help reduce the possibility of infection. To remove the risk the only sure way of doing that is to not put yourself in the situation in the first place.

Life is about risks and how people manage that risk, it’s down to personal choice about what measures you take and how to plan for it.

Tips for putting on a mask

Before putting your mask on, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 30 seconds (or use hand sanitiser if you’re on the go). Attach it to your face as evenly as possible – if the mask has ear loops, grab both at the same time, and if it has ties, then fasten the upper bow before the lower one. Try not to touch it once it’s on or you’re really missing the point!

How to remove a medical mask


At Rapid Fire Supplies we always try and match the right product for the purpose, the same goes for you choosing a mask as protection.

Our key points:

The choice is yours, there is no right or wrong answer, risk management is a daily occurance, just like crossing a road you have to assess each situation.

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