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Disposable vs Surgical Masks

COVID-19 has seen a surge in the use of disposable respirators and surgical type masks. Below is an explanation of the pros and cons of these types of respiratory protection.

Disposable Respirator (N95)

Surgical Mask

Designed to keep out 95% of airborne hazards

Designed for protection against blood spray, bone fragment, and bodily fluids

Requires fit testing for use

Not designed to protect against airborne hazards

Not designed for re-use

Not designed for re-use

Made of material to filter out particles

Material used for verified surgical masks can keep particles out but not ‘homemade’ masks made with cloth

Improper use (putting on / taking off) can result in contamination of the mask and increase infection risk

Improper use (putting on / taking off) can result in contamination of the mask and increase infection risk

Subject to stringent testing regarding particle filtration

Not subject to the same testing criteria for particle filtration

As with all hazards make sure you apply the hierarchy of controls. PPE including RPE is a last resort. Controls such as social distancing, hygiene control, and preventing airborne material are higher on the hierarchy than PPE.