Masks have become a prerequisite for most business activities and professions. However, people fail to realize their importance. If the nature of your job requires you to wear a mask, you should wear it without fail. Some people believe masks protect you from disease-causing pathogens. However, the use cases are not limited to containing the spread of diseases. They are used widely for other purposes too.
There are different kinds of masks designed to protect people from hazards. For instance, if a painter paints ten walls a day, he is exposed to the chemicals that the paint releases in the air. This can pose a great risk to his well-being and life at large. Therefore, he must try wearing a mask that is well-suited for his job and protects him from the chemicals a wall paint releases.
Now that you know how can mask help people, let’s understand the different kinds of masks and the purposes they serve. The most commonly used masks across professions are the respirator masks. Respirator masks are a kind of protective equipment that covers your mouth and face. They have in-built cartridges or canisters that filter the contaminants in the air and make it fit for breathing. Respirator masks are of different types. You can choose one based on the nature of your job.
Let’s understand the different kinds of masks and respirators that are available in the market for use.
Types of Masks and Respirators
People believe that masks and respirators provide the same kind of protection. In reality, that’s not the case. Both masks and respirators are different, and they serve different purposes. Let’s have a look at the different kinds of masks and respirators and the purposes they serve.
Cloth face Mask
Cloth face masks are quite popular across all age groups. The general public widely uses it in public places. These masks cover your entire mouth and nose, and you can reuse them. People wash them from time to time and put them to regular use.
You can buy a cloth mask from a regular store or make them yourself. You might add a filter layer between two cloth sheets, or you can sew several stacked layers of cloth pieces together to make a cloth mask.
Single-use face Mask
The single-use face mask serves the same purpose as the cloth face mask. People who are outdoors or are taking public transport use these masks. However, these are disposable masks, and you can only use them once. You should discard them after using them once.
Single-use face masks are also called dust masks. You can find them in your nearby hardware stores. They protect you from dust and vapors. However, they are not as effective in safeguarding against airborne diseases.
Healthcare professionals like doctors, nurses, etc., use surgical masks. It is most commonly used by doctors who perform a surgical operation. Post-COVID, all doctors have started using surgical masks, even during general consultations with their patients.
The masks do not cover your nose and mouth tightly. However, they are designed with a material that protects you from different pathogens. Also, these masks protect the doctors and operators from a spray of body fluids during surgery.
N95 Standard Disposable Respirator
These masks are designed to protect people from airborne particles that are not as hazardous. Some of these particles include dust, pollens, etc. These masks are also commonly used by professional construction workers at work. Also, people in DIY projects like spray painting often use these masks.
The N in the N95 stands for not resistant to oil. Hence, it would help if you avoided washing or cleaning them with oil-based cleaners.
N95 Surgical Disposable Respirator
These masks are used by healthcare professionals who perform surgeries. Also, these masks protect you from all kinds of hazardous substances present in the air. These also come in handy when you need fluid protection.
A P100 respirator is oil-proof. Hence, these masks are designed for people in direct contact with oil particles at work. These masks filter out 100% of the particles and are quite common in industries where workers are in direct contact with hazardous substances.
Respirators and masks provide different degrees of protection. Respirators filter out small particles and make the air fit for breathing. However, cloth masks protect from large dust particles and other substances floating in the air. Also, the face masks do not completely seal your nose and mouth, giving the air particles a window to enter your body. On the other hand, respirators create a tight seal safeguarding your nose and mouth from all kinds of dust particles and hazardous substances in the air.
Choosing the Mask Based on the Feature
Different masks and respirators offer different features. You must understand the nature of your job and the kind of environment where you will perform the job's regular functions.
For instance, if you are a surgical resident, you need protection from fluids and bacteria that might be floating in the surgery room. Hence, you need to pick a mask or a respirator that protects you from these hazards. Let’s look at the different kinds of masks and respirators and the features they offer, based on which you can choose.
Most masks offer the particulate filtration feature. The masks with particulate respirators can be disposed of easily and are used by people who want to safeguard themselves from smoke, dust, pollution, etc. If your profession involves market work or being on the ground all the time, you should look out for this feature.
Traffic police officers, hawkers, railway workers, etc. should buy these masks to safeguard themselves from dust and air pollution.
Comfort is the unique feature that a valved respirator provides as it is designed to keep the heat and moisture away from your mouth and nose while you have the mask on. These respirators protect you from large particles like pollen, dust, etc.
Therefore, if you are an agricultural worker or are working in the construction industry, you should buy a valved respirator. It will protect you from pollen, brick, and gravel particles at construction sites, etc.
These masks are not linked with any profession. Rather, they are designed to restrict the two-way movement of the particles. These masks come in handy during an outbreak of a disease where people seek protection from others who are infected or want to restrict the disease to themselves if they are infected.
These masks have become quite common after the pandemic. People are wearing them to school, work, and everywhere they go.
These masks are specially designed for people who work in contaminated surroundings for a very long duration. These masks are heavy-duty and can filter out toxins for a longer duration.
Hence, if you work in a chemical factory or the power industry, you should buy a reusable respirator for prolonged protection.
If you are a DIY homeowner and want to paint a surface at home or clean the mold, you can use these masks. The masks are designed to protect you from harmful chemicals. However, they exhaust their capability in a day or two. Hence, you can use them during short projects.
Mask Performance Tests
Before a particular mask feature is promoted, it goes through some tests. If the results of these tests are positive, the mask is believed to have that feature. These tests check for flammability, breathability, fluid protection, etc. Let’s understand some of these tests conducted on masks and respirators.
The bacterial filtration test is done on masks and respirators to check how well the material filters out bacteria. Here, the bacteria's size is considered at least 3 microns. The bacteria is added to a liquid suspension and sprayed on the mask.
The testers check how much bacteria has passed through the mask's material. They use different compounds to prevent the bacteria's presence on the mask's other side. Masks designed for bacterial filtration can be up to 99.9% efficient in filtering bacteria.
The fluid resistance test is conducted to check the level of synthetic blood that the mask can withstand. These tests are commonly conducted on surgical or other masks that surgeons or medical professionals use during surgery.
The test involves subjecting the mask to a high-velocity stream of synthetic blood. The blood is sprayed for a few seconds post which the testers check if the blood has permeated to the other side of the mask. In these masks, no degree of resistance is assigned. Even if little blood spots are found on the other side of the mask, the mask fails the test.
Medical professionals want a mask that safeguards them from bodily fluids during surgery. Therefore, the fluid protection test is important if it is declared fit for surgeon’s use.
The most common use of a face mask is to filter the particles floating in the air. These particles include dust, pollen, etc. The test aims to determine the number of particles a mask can filter with at least 1-micron size. A spray made of polystyrene latex spheres is sprayed on the mask to check if it can filter particles bigger than 1 micron.
These tests are commonly done on cloth and dust masks as they are worn to filter out large particles in the air.
Air Flow Resistance
This parameter checks the breathability of the mask. A pre-defined amount of air is flown through the mask to check the air's volume. The masks that allow high airflow is considered to be breathable. However, a mask that enables the free flow of air may not filter out all the large or small particles in the air.
Therefore, breathability as a feature should never be seen in isolation in the case of masks and respirators. You should check if it is breathable and if it filters out either large particles or disease-causing germs.
People working in automotive repairs and other related fields use masks while performing their regular job functions. Therefore, checking the flammability of the mask becomes quite important. During this test, the mask is kept close to a flame. The testers then check the time at which the mask catches fire. The higher the duration, the tougher it is for the mask to catch fire.
Know your Masks and Respirators
Based on your profession, you need to check for the cartridges and filters used in a particular mask. When you buy a respirator or a mask, it will have some labels and a color code. You may not find them in cloth masks, but these are chalked out on the packaging of a professional mask.
For instance, if you are a chemical factory worker looking for a mask that protects you from acid gases. You should buy a mask that has a white label on it. However, if you are looking for protection from a particular acid gas like hydrocyanic acid, you should look for a while label with a ½-inch green line. The label can be seen around the canister of the mask.
If you work in refrigerants, you will frequently be exposed to ammonia gas. The same is the case with the fertilizer industry. Therefore, you should look for a respirator that protects you from ammonia gas. Look for a green label on the mask if your primary objective is safeguarding yourself from ammonia.
People working in industries that involve the combustion of substances also need masks. They are constantly exposed to carbon monoxide and should look for a mask that filters the carbon monoxide. If you are someone who needs protection from exposure to carbon monoxide, look for a mask with a blue label.
The colors are used to define the kind of hazards that a particular mask can safeguard you from. Some masks have multiple labels as they can protect you from exposure to hazardous chemicals and gasses. These masks are ideal for people who work in the chemical industry and are surrounded by toxins daily. The masks will have labels that will help you understand the kind of protection they can provide. Also, some masks and respirators have a fixed structure, and others might allow you to replace cartridges.
While buying a respirator cartridge for your mask, you must consider your work environment and requirements. Different respirator cartridges protect you from different substances. You must identify the substances you want the mask to keep off your nose and mouth.
Some of the common substances and matters that people want to protect themselves from using a mask are:
- Airborne particles like smoke, dust, dirt, etc.
- Organic vapors and petroleum-based liquids like kerosene vapors, paint thinners, etc. These also include contaminants like organic fumes from livestock, etc.
- Acid gases like chlorine, hydrogen chloride vapors, etc.
Respirators and masks are of different types, and they serve several purposes. One mask fits all is not the strategy that you should adopt. Instead, it would be best to research your work environment and then analyze the toxins you are exposed to daily.
Once you can identify the problem, choose your mask. Look for color labels and respirator ratings while buying a mask or a respirator. Once you pick the right mask, you can peacefully carry out your daily work activities.