The symptoms of the illness associated with this novel coronavirus are similar to those caused by influenza and other respiratory illnesses and include coughing, shortness of breath, fever, and difficulty breathing.

The WHO also confirmed airborne transmission of the novel coronavirus that causes the disease; however, PPE use has not been recommended for members of the public. The WHO and CDC have recommended airborne precautions for healthcare workers for certain interactions with patients with suspected or known cases of COVID.

The coronavirus is not the last pandemic of this proportion that the world will experience, and PPE will always be at the forefront of the battle to fight the spread. The sudden need for education in the proper use of PPE has been positive for the industry. Legislation is now strictly in place stipulating the correct PPE which organisations have to supply to keep their employees well and safe.

SAPEMA had a special issue published by African OS&H to provide some insight into PPE and COVID. Click the image on the right to view this issue.

Use of Disposable Filtering Facepiece Particulate Respirators

Individuals using Respiratory Protection should always carefully read and follow the User Instructions for the model of respirator they are using.

It is very important that users of disposable filtering facepiece respirators be clean-shaven and follow the donning instructions exactly to get a good seal between the respirator and the face.

Users with underlying heart or lung conditions should consult a physician prior to use. If you do not have a proper fit to the face, you will not get the expected protection from the respirator.

Remember that it is time to dispose of your disposable respirator and obtain a new one when it becomes dirty, damaged or difficult to breathe through. In Healthcare settings please refer to the Standard Operating Procedures Protocols.


  • Masks help protect the patient and the environment from the exhaled breath of the health care worker.
  • No minimum filter efficiency standards for surgical masks.
  • No NIOSH approval.
  • Masks are loose fitting and are not designed to seal against the face.
  • Respirators are designed to help protect the health careworker by reducing the exposure of the wearer to airbornecontaminants while protecting the patient and environment from exhaled breath.
  • Minimum filter efficiency standards are set by NIOSH eg. N95. Most of the inhaled air is drawn through the filter media and not through gaps between the respirator and the wearer’s face.
  • Are NIOSH approved.
  • Snug fit around the face to create a good face to respirator seal to help avoid leaks where contaminants may enter.

The “N95” is NOT THE NAME of a Respirator

It is the US NIOSH standard to which it complies:

Definition – N95

  • The “N” or “P” designator identifies a filter’s degree of protection against oil aerosols.
  • N-series filters are not resistant to oil, while P-series filters are strongly resistant.
  • Both the N95 and P95 filters are 95 percent efficient in removing fine particles from the air, the minimum level of filtration approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
  • Higher efficiency ratings of 99 and 100 exist in both series, though the N95 filter is the most common.
WARNING: These filters only protect against airborne particles, not chemicals and gases.

Which to Consider?

NIOSH-Certified N95 Respirators:

  • Particulate respirators are designed to help reduce the wearer’s exposure to airborne particulate hazards.
  • N95-rated filtering facepiece respirators have a filtration efficiency of at least 95% against non-oily particles when tested using the NIOSH criteria.

FDA-Cleared Surgical Masks:

  • Surgical masks, in contrast, are designed to be worn by healthcare professionals during surgery and nursing, to help prevent contamination of the surgical field and/or the patient by capturing liquid droplets that are expelled by the wearer.
  • Surgical masks are cleared for use as medical devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or equivalent agencies outside the U.S.

The WHO also confirmed airborne transmission of the novel coronavirus that causes the disease; however, PPE use has not been recommended for members of the public. The WHO and CDC have recommended airborne precautions for healthcare workers for certain interactions with patients with suspected or known cases of COVID-19.


ASTM F1862 is a standard test method for resistance of medical facemasks to penetration by synthetic blood.

This test is required because during certain medical procedures, a blood vessel may occasionally be punctured, resulting in a high velocity stream of blood impacting a protective medical facemask. The test procedure specifies that a mask or respirator is conditioned in a high-humidity environment to simulate human use and is placed on a test holder. Synthetic blood (2cc) is shot horizontally at the mask at a distance of 30 cm (12 inches). Surgical masks and respirators are tested on a pass/fail basis at three velocities corresponding to the range of human blood pressure (80, 120, and 160 mmHg). The inside of the mask is then inspected to see if any synthetic blood has penetrated to the inside of the facemask. Fluid resistance according to this test method is when the device passes at any level.

Can a respirator with a valve be effective against bioaerosols?

The purpose of a respirator’s exhalation valve is to reduce the breathing resistance during exhalation; it does not impact a respirator’s ability to provide respiratory protection.

The valve is designed to open during exhalation to allow exhaled air to exit the respirator and then close tightly during inhalation, so inhaled air is not permitted to enter the respirator through the valve.

Most countries do not permit valves on surgical respirators because wearergenerated droplets, exhaled through the valve, might contaminate a sterile field.

While a valve does not change a respirator’s ability to help reduce a wearer’s exposure to bioaerosols, it is not recommended that a person who is exhibiting symptoms of illness wear a valved respirator, because there is a possibility that exhaled particles may leave the respirator via the valve and enter the surrounding environment, potentially contaminating the sterile field.

In summary:

  • Healthcare workers may wear valved or unvalved respirators to help reduce their exposure to potentially infectious aerosols.
  • Healthcare workers should wear a surgical respirator (which usually do not have valves) if they require respiratory protection while performing patient care tasks that might generate a high-pressure stream of liquid such as arterial spray or are working in a sterile field.

Can I wear a filtering facepiece respirator if I have facial hair?

FFRs are considered tight-fitting respirators, meaning they must seal to the wearer’s skin to work correctly, therefore, wearers should be cleanshaven if they will wear an FFR.

If a worker is unable to shave then Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPRs) may be considered as an alternative to FFRs. Some PAPR head-tops, called loose-fitting head-tops, do not need to seal to the wearer’s skin to work correctly; they instead are designed to cinch under the wearer’s chin or at their neck. These loose-fitting head-tops can accommodate some facial hair styles.

Can respirators without fluid resistance testing help protect against sneezes and coughs?

Filtering facepiece respirators do help protect against liquid droplets that are generated due to sneezes and coughs.

  • When such droplets strike the surface of a respirator, they are captured like other airborne contaminants.
  • Fluid resistance testing for surgical respirators involve a high-pressure jet of liquid sprayed directly at the respirator.
  • A droplet from a sneeze or cough has far less momentumthan a jet of liquid.

Can filtering facepiece respirators be re-used?

When FFRs are used against bioaerosols, they should be discarded after each use, carefully and appropriately, according to local waste disposal guidelines.

During use, particles containing viruses, bacteria, etc. get captured on the filter fibres and remain on the fibres.

Therefore, after use, handling or storing the respirator might result in further spreading the disease.