There are different types of masks available on the market for protection against the spread of COVID-19. Understandably, selecting the right mask is new to most retailers, so this article aims to educate you before you buy.
In the medical industry, masks are categorised into different levels, which indicate which type should be worn for different situations. Surgical masks are grouped into level 1, level 2, and level 3. Level 2 or Level 3 are ideal for use in retail and the community.
- Level 1 – low barrier: Designed for general purpose medical procedures or situations, where the wearer is not at a high risk of droplet exposure.
- Level 2 – moderate barrier: Typically used in emergency departments, dentistry, changing wound dressings or other situations where there is minimal droplet exposure.
- Level 3 – maximum barrier: Used for all surgical procedures, major trauma first aid, or other situations where there is a risk of droplet exposure.
- Providing even more protection is a respirator mask, also called an N95 or P2 face mask. These masks are typically more expensive, but provide the highest level of droplet exposure.
Mitigate your risk and ensure staff and customer safety by sourcing products that offer the highest level of protection.
So, how will I know how each mask is rated?
Simply look for Level 1, 2, or 3 in the product description and on the packaging. Medical masks should also meet specific standards, so it’s important to check before you buy. There are several standards that any product sold in Australia should have. Look out for the following:
- AS – This stands for the Australian Standard. Look for the AS 4381:2015 number when purchasing your masks.
- ASTM – This stands for the American Society for Testing and Materials. ASTM standards are widely used around the world in many applications. Look for an ASTM number when purchasing your masks.
- ARTG – This means that therapeutic goods entered in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) can be lawfully supplied in Australia. Look for the ARTG number when purchasing your masks.
Can you wear masks more than once?
Most surgical masks are single use only. For use in retail, we recommend that each staff member be issued several single-use masks to wear each day. They should be changed when they are removed to eat or drink, or if they feel wet/damp or get dirty throughout the day. Avoid touching the outside of your mask with un-gloved hands. It’s important to handle your mask carefully when removing it, taking care to only touch the ties in case the mask is contaminated. Dispose of the mask responsibly.
For use in retail, we recommend that each staff member be issued several masks to wear each day.
Can you make your own masks?
Homemade masks made of cloth or other materials are not standardised. Medical testing suggests that a homemade mask should only be considered as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals. Surgical masks are, on average, 3 times more effective in blocking transmission than the typical homemade mask. Mitigate your risk and ensure your team’s safety– and that of your customers – by sourcing products that comply with global testing standards.
Do I choose ear loops or ties?
Face masks come in a variety of styles. Choosing the right one is a personal choice, however many medical professionals find that face masks with ties are the most comfortable to wear for long periods, and they easily adjust to fit different face and head shapes. Masks with ear loops are also very popular.
What else do retail staff need to consider?
Wearing a medical mask can help limit the spread of some respiratory diseases. However using a mask alone is not guaranteed to stop infection. Touching your mask if you have the virus on your hands could lead to infection. That’s why personal hygiene and hand washing is so important.
Ensure your staff maintain proper hygiene and cleaning practices, such as thorough hand washing, use of hand sanitiser, coughing or sneezing into your elbow or tissue, cleaning high-touch surfaces regularly with disinfectant wipes and practicing social distancing. Refer to NRA’s COVID-19 resources for more useful information.
Where can I purchase bulk masks for my staff?
HygiMed Australia provides face masks to the medical industry and has made these available to NRA members for online orders. HygiMed Australia is a National Retail Association partner.
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