What Face Masks Are Best for Work?

Which face mask is most appropriate for work? It may depend on where you work. Get the definitive guide here.

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With many businesses reopening, you may be wondering which mask should you and your employees wear to work? What kind are available? Which offers the most protection?

But first, we need to consider why you should wear a mask. Many states and counties are making face coverings mandatory, but in case your city is mask-free, you should know that face masks can reduce the spread of a virus by more than threefold. That’s right, if you decide to forgo a mask, you’re at least 3x more likely to get sick.

It makes sense to want to put your employees’ safety first and require face masks be worn in the workplace. While mask requirements differ from state to state, county to county, it’s important to explain why you are enforcing your mask policy to both employees and consumers to reduce friction. You may also want to provide face masks at your workplace to ensure that everyone is wearing a mask at all times.

Note: Some states require employers to provide masks to employees.

Read more: What Do I Do if My Employees or Customers Won’t Wear a Mask?

Which masks are most effective at work?

When it comes to the best mask for your workplace, you have a few options. Generally, most offices can get by with cloth or paper masks, although certain industries may want to consider more heavy-duty alternatives. Not all of the options below are considered personal protective equipment (PPE), but can still be effective as basic protection.

Respirators

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N95 respirators are the end-all-be-all of face masks. These masks can filter out respiratory droplets and airborne transmissions, making them extremely effective. According to OSHA, these masks often require proper training, fit testing, availability of appropriate medical evaluations and monitoring, and cleaning — making them more labor-intensive than other options.

These masks are ideal in workplaces that see a lot of close-contact interactions or deal with customers who have illnesses. Hospitals, specialty clinics, and schools are some examples.

Despite these being the best choice for anyone serious about protection, there is a shortage of N95 respirators. Some alternatives with a similar level of protection are N99, N100, R95, R99, R100, P95, P99, and P100 masks.

Face shields

These masks are made of plastic and laminate and cover the entire face — eyes, nose, and mouth. Face shields may be washed and sanitized after use and may be adequate protection for those working in the medical, food, or education industry. Like the respirators above, face shields offer a greater degree of protection for both the wearer and others in the immediate area.

Surgical masks

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Surgical masks are considered medical equipment and are PPE. These masks are worn over the nose and mouth and contain your respiratory droplets as well as protect you against droplets from others. However, these masks do not protect you against airborne transmissions and must be disposed of after use.

Cloth and paper masks

Cloth Mask

These masks are not considered PPE by the OSHA and are relatively easy to find and make. Paper masks are disposable, but cloth masks may be reusable after washing.

These masks are generally affordable for all workers and cover the nose and mouth. While these masks cannot prevent infection from loose fits or inadequate filtration, it offers basic protection against transmission from sneezing and talking.

Keep your mask clean

Regardless of which mask you decide to require for your office, you will still want to encourage your employees to take care to take care of their masks. Some general rules include:

  • Wear disposable masks once and then toss them
  • Wash reusable masks after every use
  • Wash hands after putting on your mask and after removing it
  • Remove your mask from the back

The CDC suggests that include your cloth face mask in your regular laundry load for the best clean. However, you can also hand-wash your mask with a mixture of  one-third cup of household bleach per gallon of water. You should also only wear your mask when it is dry.

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