Masks with Ear Loops – Confused?

Background

Traditionally prior to Covid, most FFP2 and FFP3 masks on sale in the UK were the moulded type like the one shown.  These definitely required two head straps to try to get an effective seal.  Even so, getting a seal could be quite difficult, as can be seen, and a cottage industry of face fit consultants using procedures like this developed.  They typically charge £30-£50 per person and the test can take more than an hour.  The idea was that the user tried several different styles and makes of moulded mask until they eventually found one with a good seal.

In any case these FFP2 masks were not used a lot in medical situations.  Face fitted FFP3 masks were supposed to be used for very high risk aerosol (AGP) situations and FFP2s were more or less a substitute, if FFP3s were not available or couldn’t be tolerated.  The FFP3 masks are typically quite unpleasant to use, so are only used for short periods.  As they were only designed to protect the wearer, they mostly have valves, which means that they don’t protect other people from the wearer.

Moulded FFP2

Surgical style masks, designed to protect people from the wearer, which mostly use ear loops are by far the most common type of mask in use. 

In the USA and Asia FFP2 style masks, designated KN95, in the flat fold style, often with ear loops were much more common.  As well as for medical situations, they were being used by the general public to protect against particulate pollution. 

Folded FFP2

Standards and HSE

The relevant standard for FFP2 face masks in the UK and EU is BS EN 149:2001+A1:2009. This standard does not specify head straps or ear loops but does specify tests by 10 plus different wearers to ensure the mask is designed to seal properly with a wide variety of face shapes.  A well designed fold style mask creates a good seal with this wide variety of face shapes, irrespective of whether they use ear loops or head straps.   

As can be seen, ear loop masks are easier to don and doff as they don’t haveto accommodate different head sizes.  They are self-positioning, so they are much more stable, convenient and comfortable; which means most people prefer them. 

BSI and many other EU notifying bodies have certified many different manufacturers’ FFP2 masks with ear loops, including our ProPly, as complying with EN149.

The UK HSE also does not specify head bands or ear loops but says they should be fit for purpose.  HSE used to refer to KN95 and FFP2 masks as equivalent but they found a lot of Asian so-called KN95 masks on the market which were far from equivalent to FFP2 and so in June issued a reminder that FFP2 masks had to be properly certified to EN149.  In the clarification, they also mentioned that most of the substandard KN95 masks on the market had fake certification and probably ear loops. So if a mask had ear loops, genuine proof of EN149 certification must be insisted on. 

The Dodgy PPE Contracts

Given the background above, it’s not surprising that the NHS leant towards head straps when a much more ubiquitous (all hospital workers) use of FFP2s was being considered.  All the practical advantages of FFP2s with ear loops don’t seem to have been considered. Therefore, it is true that as reported by the GoodLawProject in the big contract for face masks that was awarded in questionable circumstances, the specification said that the FFP2 masks which were part of that contract should be head fastening. Therefore, it appears that the supplier is in breach of this clause but if this was the only issue, the 42 million masks could be readily used in the health service and a wide variety of other situations.  It’s a big secret but the presumption is there is something else wrong with these masks.

Current Guidance

The NHS theoretically should be widely using FFP2s by all staff in all situations except the very hottest ICU areas.  In practice there seems to be a shortage of FFP2s and surgical style masks, or even face coverings, seem to predominate.  These, of course provide virtually no protection to the wearer.  The situation in care homes seems to be broadly similar. 

Other professions, such as Dentists, Vets, beauticians etc are told to wear FFP2s generally but in the worst AGP situations should preferably have face fitted FFP3s but FFP2s may be substituted if FFP3s are not available. 

MedaMask Position

Given the situation above, explained ad nauseum, it’s not surprising that anyone who doesn’t spend their waking hours thinking about masks is confused.  

MedaMask supplies 5 ply FFP2 ProPly masks with ear loops which are certified to EN149.  They actually are very close to FFP3s in terms of filtration performance. 

These masks are very comfortable, convenient and effective and as can be seen in the video easy to put on and self-test.   

For the vast majority of users, our FFP2 masks fit and seal well.  In the rare cases where there is not a good seal, it is immediately apparent.   

MedaMask offers to fully refund any end Practice (Dentist, Vet etc) who is not satisfied with any ProPly masks they have bought for their own Practice use. 

 

Peter Bond; Director
BritishBins Ltd, T/A MedaMask