A dust mask is worn in the same fashion as a filtering face piece respirator or surgical mask, but it is dangerous to confuse them because they each protect against specific airborne dangers. Using the wrong mask for a job can present a significant and possibly deadly danger as many dust masks with widely varied levels of protection may look similar, and even masks that do not protect against dust at all. Misfitting masks are also a danger as they allow a material to bypass the mask entirely. A correct fit may not be as critical in masks that are intended to protect against splattering liquids or mists. Dust masks do not protect against chemicals such as vapors and mists. For this reason, it is dangerous to confuse dust masks with respirators used as paint masks.
Dust masks are a cheaper, lighter, and possibly more comfortable alternative to respirators, but do not provide certified respiratory protection, and may be more susceptible to misuse or poor fit. Dust masks and respirators usually do not contact the mouth, and therefore interfere less with speech than cloth masks that do contact the mouth.
Some dust masks include improvements such as having two straps behind the head (one upper and one lower), having a strip of aluminum on the outside across the bridge of the nose that can be bent for a custom fit, and having a strip of foam rubber on the inside across the bridge of the nose to ensure a better seal even if the aluminum on the outside does not fit.
Any mask that consistently covers the nose and mouth will reduce the transmission of contagious respiratory diseases. Snugly fitting dust masks generally provide more protection than loose cloth masks, but less protection than respirators
Different Types of Dust Mask
Dust Masks are designed to protect the wearer against inhaling airborne particulates. Airborne particulates are solids or liquids suspended in breathable air and can be classified as dusts, mists or fume. Inhaling airborne particulates may have an inverse effect on health and, depending on the particulate inhaled, this effect may be irreversible. There are three main different type of dust masks which are governed by the European standard EN149:2001+A1:2009 (Respiratory protective devices. Filtering half masks to protect against particles. Requirements, testing, marking) – this covers FFP dusts masks and their three ratings; FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3. Each different dust mask rating is a step up giving greater protection.
The FFP rating stands for ‘filtering face piece’ and the numbers correspond to the level of protection that they provide, with 1 being the lowest and 3 being the highest. Below we have given an overview of what these protect against:
FFP1 Dust Masks
FFP1 dust masks give the minimum level of protection against non-toxic particulates however this may be perfectly acceptable depending on the airborne hazard. As they are composed of the least amount of filter material they also provide the least breathing resistance and quite often an exhalation valve is not required.
FFP2 dust masks offer a moderate level of protection against hazardous mists and particulates and fume. Exhalation valves are more common in this rating of mask as there is greater breathing resistance. Some FFP2 dust masks have an activated charcoal layer to protect against ozone and these are often called welding dust masks.
FFP2 dust mask protection examples: brake dust, cotton dust, granite dust, hay, lead dust and fume, softwood dust.
FFP3 Dust Masks
FFP3 dust masks provide the highest level of protection that a disposable mask can offer. A well fitting FFP3 mask will protect against fine toxic particulates including asbestos, bacteria, viruses and radioactive particles. Due to the thickness of the filter material an exhalation valve is almost always fitted.
Protection class FFP3 masks offer the maximum protection of all 3 types of respirators, they protect against toxic solid and liquid materials and are often used in the chemical industry.
FFP3 dust mask protection examples: viruses, bacteria, radioactive dusts, asbestos.
Face Fit Testing
All respirators need to be face fit tested to make sure they are fitted correctly, even if the wearer wears more than one face mask. This is to ensure the wearer is protected at all times. They need to be sealed correctly around the face to prevent exposure to harmful fibres. These can be tested with a face fit testing kit.