Just because your face is covered doesn’t mean you’re protected
Wearing a face mask while working isn’t a foreign concept for most tradies, but pre-COVID they certainly weren’t a mandatory part of the everyday work uniform. Fast-forward 12 months and face masks have become the latest piece of equipment to hang off tool-belts around the world. Wearing one could even save your life — or someone else’s.
Face masks are a simple way to help decrease the transmission of coronavirus, especially for those who are pre-symptomatic. Initially, the advice was that anything was better than nothing. However, some basic tradesmen masks are more effective than others at protecting you and your fellow tradies while on the tools.
Here we look at a few options you may already own as part of your toolkit and assess whether each mask is appropriate for stopping the spread of COVID-19.
1. Bandanas, scarves or buffs
Let’s start at the bottom. While a bandana, scarf, or buff (sometimes known as a neck fleece) does a good job at covering your face, it’ll do next to nothing to contain the spread of the virus. A recent study has found these types of face coverings are barely more effective than no covering at all. They’re also a safety hazard – a scarf plus power tools equals an accident waiting to happen.
2. Face shields, e.g. welder’s mask or arborist’s hat
A helmet, earmuffs and face shield all in one – that’s got to be a winner, right? Wrong. While your entire face and head might be covered, you’re not protected. Because the virus is airborne, unless you’re wearing a surgical mask underneath, you’re still at risk of contracting and/or spreading the virus.
3. Dust masks
These masks get a big tick for being one of the most comfortable, but that’s about it. The one-way valve will make it easier for you to breathe but does nothing to protect the people around you. There’s not much difference between this mask and blowing air directly into another person’s face.
4. Reusable face masks
During lockdown, it seems people either baked banana bread or learned to sew face masks. If that wasn’t you, someone you know probably did. The good news is, these masks rank relatively well. They can reduce the spread of the virus, are easy to purchase or make and can be washed and worn again. If the mask fits snugly across your nose and mouth and has multiple layers of fabric, it’ll provide a decent amount of protection.
5. Surgical masks
Probably not something you have lying around in the back of your van, but it’s still worth knowing how effective they are. Most often worn by healthcare workers, these disposable masks provide a good barrier of protection between people. But because they tend to be loose-fitting between the mask and your face, they lose a few points on the effectiveness scale.
The holy grail of face masks, respirators hit the nail on the head. Specifically designed to reduce the risk of inhaling or exhaling hazardous airborne particles, they provide a high level of protection by filtering out large and small particles. Depending on your line of work, you may already have one as part of your toolkit. Make sure it moulds tightly to your face – and away you go.
Battle of the face masks
Every face mask is different. While some do a better job than others, there are a fair few you’re best to avoid. Some masks, like respirators and surgical masks, may be in short supply with healthcare workers taking top priority. If this is the case, chuck a few of those reusable masks your spouse bought you in the glove compartment and keep yourself and your mates safe.