Love them or hate them, face masks have become a tenet of the “new normal” reality of life with COVID-19.

As the debate over whether to wear them or not continues to rage around the world, Industry Update has put together the most accurate information possible surrounding the use and efficacy of standard masks.

Controversies around mask use abound, from whether the wearing of masks should be made compulsory, to which masks should be worn (and on what occasion), and in what circumstances we should cover up.

As we go to print, the wearing of masks has become “strongly recommended” by the NSW public transport system, almost as important as social distancing inside trains and buses.

NSW Transport’s coronavirus travel advice says that the state is on high alert as a result of the recent increase in COVID-19 cases.

“Following NSW Health advice, wearing a face mask while using public transport is strongly recommended, as well as in other situations where it is difficult to maintain physical distance.”

The travel advice also details where and in what situations the wearing of face masks may become necessary: in “enclosed spaces where physical distancing is not guaranteed, such as buying groceries and customer-facing staff in hospital and retail.”

The mask-wearing advice extends to areas where there is high community transmission such as places of worship.

Face masks are also strongly recommended – along with the practice of social distancing, hand washing and the use of sanitiser – when using taxis or rideshares.

Meanwhile, as winter continues to chill the nation, the COVID-stricken state of Victoria has begun to regulate compulsory wearing of face masks on account of its second wave of infections.

The rest of the country hasn’t gone that far, but like the rest of the world – especially those experiencing a second wave of the pandemic, such as the United States, India and Japan – Australia has become acutely conscious about the efficacy of masks.

Safe Work Australia is currently reviewing the wearing of masks and advises that the public refers to Department of Health guidelines.

For those among us who choose to wear face masks, the standard surgical mask is a common choice. For health workers attending to patients, the use of P2 and KN95 masks as part of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is a must.

So what’s the difference between a surgical mask and those required for use by health workers exposed to COVID cases?

Safe Work Australia differentiates between a “cloth mask” and industry-required masks. Cloth masks are made from washable fabric like cotton and denim, and are worn by the general public in areas where there is community transmission and difficult-to-maintain physical distancing.

P2 and KN95 masks are about reducing respiratory exposure to airborne contaminants and are used when there’s high probability of transmission from particles and droplets in the air.

The two mask styles are recommended only for use in healthcare settings due to high demand caused by the pandemic.

The Victorian Government has declared that from August 2020, all Victorians “must wear a face covering when they leave home, no matter where they live.”

Safework NSW alerts users to check that masks purchased for work use meet Australian standards or the international equivalent. These include the manufacturer’s trade name and the mask filter’s classification.

It also points to an increase in “fake masks” brought on by demand and warns that misleading representations about masks can lead to a fine of up to $10 million as per Australian Consumer Law.

Australia’s only accredited face mask manufacturer is the family-owned Med-Con, based in Victoria. Med-Con, which has been providing products to the medical industry since 1989, has introduced “Level 2 and Level 3 face masks” which are rigorously tested for filtration efficiency and fluid resistance.

As guidelines surrounding mask wearing continue to change, Industry Update will stay on top of the issue and provide its readers with the latest information. Watch this space.

SafeWork NSW –
Safe Work Australia –
Department of Health –
WorkSafe Victoria –
Med-Con –

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