Personal protection equipment – masks and similar

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  • Wearing a mask reduces the spread of the virus if you wear it indoors where there are many people together. Wearing a mask reduces the chance that through social contacts, coughing and sneezing, the infection droplets will reach other people. The mask can also help a healthy person if an infected person coughs or sneezes nearby. Wearing a mask will only help to prevent the virus if other hygiene rules are also complied with and close contacts are avoided.

  • There is no reason to wear a mask at home or outdoors.

  • Protecting the mouth and nose in crowded indoor public spaces always helps. If disposable masks are not available, people who want to wear a mask can make a fabric mask at home to cover their nose and mouth in an indoor public space. The use of home-made masks reduces to some extent the risk of the infected person passing the virus on to others, and also protects partly the person wearing the mask who is not infected.

  • If the mask is home-made, it is important to remember that it is neither a personal protective equipment nor an equivalent to a medical mask.

  • In order to protect your health and prevent the spread of the virus, the most important thing is to wash your hands, comply with the hygiene rules, avoid close contacts with other persons, and comply with the 2-by-2 rule when outside the home. If you think you might have symptoms of any disease, it is important to stay home.

  • NB! An infected person with COVID-19 diagnosis or someone who is just feeling ill, should stay home, avoid contacts with other people, regardless if they have a mask or not.

Last updated: 16.04.2020 21:30

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The protective mask is most usually understood as a medical protective mask, but there are other sorts of breathing protectors such as masks and respirators. Masks can be classified as personal protection or medical equipment depending on what they are used for.

Masks are classified as personal protection equipment if they protect people against threats to themselves. Surgical masks are primarily intended to protect the patient during a medical procedure so that any particles breathed out by a doctor or surgeon would not reach the patient during the process.

Masks with a filter covering the mouth and nose protect against particles in the air. Protective masks are classified by how effective their filters are and what the maximum amount that can leak through the mask is. FFP2 class masks filter 95% of particles of 0.3 µm, which is 0.0003 mm, or larger in diameter. FFP3 class masks filter at least 99% of the particles in the air. Such masks can be worn for up to eight hours.

Last updated: 28.03.2020 08:58

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People who still want to wear a mask can make their own cloth masks. A self-made cloth mask somewhat reduces the risk of an infected person spreading the virus to others and partly also protects the wearer of the mask herself if she does not have the virus yet.

With self-made masks it should be kept in mind that this is not personal protective equipment and not the same as a medical mask.

NB! A virus carrier who has received a diagnosis or a person who has symptoms of the coronavirus must stay at home and avoid contacts with others, regardless of whether he has some kind of a mask or not.

Last updated: 30.04.2020 17:25

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The most important thing about a self-made mask is the material. Depending on the material used, a self-made mask can stop 30-50% of fine particles. A person wearing a self-made mask must also take all other precautionary measures: wash her hands, keep a distance with other people. It is important to remember that every time you touch the mask with your hands, the mask gets more contaminated and the risk of infection increases. It is also important to pay attention to protecting your eyes and not rub them with your hands, as the virus can also get into your organism through the open mucous membrane.

Last updated: 02.04.2020 21:35

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The material of a self-made mask gets damp very quickly. A damp mask must be changed out, at least every 2-3 hours, depending on the material. One person requires about 4-5 masks a day, for instance if she needs to go to work.

Last updated: 02.04.2020 21:35

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If you make a mask at home, this mask is not a substitute for a medical-grade mask nor would it prevent transmission like a medical-grade mask. Wearing such a mask and using other preventative measures may reduce the risk of transmission through inhalation and it will reduce the risk of infecting other people.

Instructions on how to make a home-made mask have been published by the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority:

  • A mask must be made of a multiple-layer fabric, which can be washed at 60 degrees Celsius, and can be heat-treated.
  • Materials used in cleaning cloths and microfibre towels, a thicker dishwasher fabric, antimicrobial pillowcase are suitable for making home-made masks.
  • The material should have good breathability.
  • the mask material should not be too stiff but comfortable against the skin.
  • the mask must be fixed behind the ears; a rubber band could be used. Instead of a rubber band, a ribbon can be attached to each corner of the mask, but this mask would be more difficult to use.

The Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority instructions for making a home-made mask: https://www.ttja.ee/sites/default/files/failid/dokumendid/kuidas_valmistada_kodus_kaitsemaska_210x297_est.pdf (in Estonian, pdf).

More detailed instructions for making a home-made mask for private persons, and making a medical-grade mask for businesses are available here (in Estonian, pdf).

Last updated: 16.04.2020 01:13

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It is important to keep the following in mind.

  • The mask should sit on the face properly, so that the mouth and the nose are covered. If the mask has a wire to keep it in place, then the wire should sit tight around the nose, the bottom of the mask should fit under the chin.

  • If the mask has been pulled off the face, or it has been been repeatedly adjusted or touched, then the mask must be changed.

  • The maximum time period for the use of a mask bought at the pharmacy is three hours. After that it is recommended to change the mask because the top layer of the mask might have become contaminated with the virus.

  • The mask cannot be damp. A damp mask must be changed.

  • Used mask needs to be disposed to a bin with a lid or placed in a plastic bag which can be sealed. The mask must be disposed with proper care.

  • Please see the proper use of the protective mask here.

Last updated: 13.04.2020 23:08

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Yes, but the cloth masks have to be made from multilayered cloth and they must be washable at high temperatures. The mask has to be washed at 60 degrees, at the lowest. NB! Used masks must be gathered into a closed plastic bag or box. Used masks should certainly not be left lying around.

Last updated: 02.04.2020 21:36

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It generally does not make sense to wear a mask at home or outside. Following the 2-metre-distance rule is enough outside. At home it does not make sense to wear a mask because if one family member is infected and other family members are not permanently isolated from him, the virus will probably still find a way to infect the other family members.

It might make sense to wear a mask in public places (stores, pharmacies, medical facilities, public transport) where there are a lot of people, in order to reduce the possibility that the droplet infection released with coughing or sneezing reaches other people. Covering your nose and mouth is an appropriate precaution to take in a place like that. A mask might also be of help to a healthy person if an infected person coughs in his direction -- it might somewhat reduce the possibility of the healthy person getting sprayed with a large enough dosage of the droplet virus to get infected and sick.

Last updated: 15.04.2020 16:23

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The medical or surgical mask is a single-use mask. Surgical masks are primarily intended to protect the patient during a medical procedure so that any particles or saliva breathed out by a doctor or surgeon would not reach the patient during the process and so would not cause additional complications and illnesses.

We recommend that infected people wear surgical masks to avoid spreading particles by coughing and sneezing. A surgical mask may also give some direct protection against microscopic particles and may deter you from touching your face. Surgical masks do not give complete protection against the virus, but they do sharply reduce the risk of transmission.

Surgical masks stop offering effective protection if they become wet, and once one has been taken off it cannot be used again but must be thrown away. Neither should the mask be shared as it is for use by one person only, and once it has been taken off, even briefly, it should not be used again. Pulling the mask down to the chin or taking it off for a moment is just the same as taking it off fully, and in this case it should be thrown away and a new mask should be used.

When you take a mask off it is important to observe hygiene rules for your hands properly afterwards, because a used mask may contain particles of infection. Hands must be washed after the mask is taken off. After you have taken the mask off, you should only touch your face once you have washed your hands properly.

Last updated: 06.04.2020 12:47

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Masks can be sold everywhere -- pharmacies, construction stores, health stores, grocery stores, online stores. The important thing is that people get the correct information -- a person must know what it is she is buying, what it protects her from and how the masks should be used.

That is why the product must be accompanied by product information (name, the standanrd it meets and information on its protective properties), an instruction manual in Estonian and information on the importer.

If there is no information on protective properties of the product, it can only be advertised as a face mask.

Last updated: 25.05.2020 10:03

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If you are wearing a mask for a longer period of time made of a not suitable material and it covers your nose and mouth, then microfibres, dust or other particles may enter the airways and damage them.

The mask is an additional measure for preventing the spread of the virus, but it does not replace other important methods for avoiding infection such as washing hands, cleaning surfaces, and also keeping the distance from other people.

Last updated: 24.04.2020 19:31

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The Government has placed the responsibility of the national central contracting authority for personal protection equipment to the Minister of Public Administration until December 31, 2020 - the Minister must procure, arrange for the storage and distribution of personal protection equipment. The State Support Services Centre helps the Minister in his task.

Last updated: 15.05.2020 14:29

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The decision to use personal protective equipment must be based on risk analysis. This means that the employer carries out a risk analysis which will show what dangers there are in the work environment. This includes biological dangers, and among them is the possibility of infection with the coronavirus. After that, they can decide what measures should be taken to avoid or reduce related risks. Under § 13 (2) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, an employer has the right to apply stricter health and safety requirements than those required by law.

Personal protective equipment must be used if the risk analysis shows that the danger of infection cannot be avoided or reduced only by shared means of protection such as protective glass to stop the spread of the virus, or through organisational measures such as maintaining distance and making disinfectant available.

The employer must inform their employees of the results of the risk analysis in the working environment, which includes health risks and the measures taken to avoid harm to health. The employer informs their employees of any possible points of danger identified during the risk analysis such as the risk of infection in particular companies or during particular work tasks, and what measures are being taken. As shared protective measures or organisational measures are to be preferred to personal protective equipment, the employer must explain to their employees why it was decided to use personal protective equipment.

The employer must explain why it is necessary to use personal protective equipment and to require its use. When this is explained to the employees it is important that they understand why this requirement has been introduced. If the reasons for the requirement are not explained to the employees, there may be more opposition to complying with it.

If the employee does not comply with the construction, the employer may issue a warning that they may be dismissed if they do not follow the rules. If the employee does not abide by the rules even after the warning, the employer has the right to terminate their employment.

Last updated: 19.09.2020 15:15

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The decision on the use of personal protective equipment is preceded by a risk analysis. This means that the employer carries out a risk analysis in the course of which he will ascertain what risk factors occur in the work environment. Among other things, the biological risk factors and the possibility of contracting the coronavirus due to them are assessed. After this, it will be possible to decide what kind of measures will be taken to avoid or reduce the risks.

Personal protective equipment must be used if the results of the risk analysis show that the risk of infection cannot be avoided or reduced with the use of general protective equipment (for instance, by installing protective glasses to limit the spread of the virus) or measures of work organization (keeping a distance, the availability of disinfectants).

The employer has an obligation to notify the workers of the results of the risk assessment of the work environment, including the health risks and the measures to be taken to avoid damage to health. The employer will explain to the workers what the risk analysis determined the possible risk areas to be (an infection risk while performing a specific task at the specific company) and what are the measures to be applied. As general protective equipment and measures of work organization must be preferred to the use of personal protective equipment, the workers must be explained why the decision was made to prefer the use of personal protective equipment.

The employer must also see to it that the personal protective equipment does not create an excess burden on the wearer and would be suitable for the user to use in specific work conditions. If these requirements are not fulfilled for some workers, the worker must turn to the employer and solutions must be found in cooperation. These might include using a different type of mask or reorganizing work so that the worker could take more frequent breaks.

How long a mask can be worn is written down in the manual of the particular mask and has to be adhered to. The employer must take into consideration that there has to be enough masks for them to be changed out if necessary.

The employer has to guarantee that the worker uses the personal protective equipment according to the manufacturer's manual, from the start of the dangerous work until finishing the work, and check its usage. The worker has the obligation to use the personal protective equipment according to the manual and the instructions given by the employer.

Thus the employer does have the right to demand that the worker use personal protective equipment and the worker has the obligation to use personal protective equipment.

If, in the course of checks, it turns out that in spite of the employer's notices the worker is not using the prescribed personal protective equipment, the employer has the right to issue a warning to the worker. A warning is one of the options for an employer to organize the work in her company and react to a worker's professional behaviour and violation of his duties of employment. If a violation has occurred, the employer has to turn the worker's attention to it and give the worker a possibility to improve his behaviour. A warning can be either oral or written but the employer must be able to later prove that a warning was issued.

As a very extreme option and when a warning did not help and the worker is still violating his duties of employment, the employer has the right to an extraordinary cancellation of the employment relationship, as the worker has ignored the reasonable orders of the employer regardless of the warning, and violated his duties of employment. The employer has the right to cancel the employment contract, while following the terms of advance notice. In exceptional cases the terms of advance notice can be ignored, if the employer cannot be reasonably demanded to continue the contract until the end of the term of advance notice or until the agreed upon term is full. In this case, the employer can cancel the employment relationship within a reasonable time. What a reasonable time is must be evaluated by the employer (effective immediately, within a week or any other time). An employment contract can be cancelled with a declaration of cancellation in a format which can be reproduced in writing (for instance, an e-mail etc.) and the employer must always substantiate the cancellation.

In conclusion, it can be said that the employer has to explain to the worker why it is necessary to use personal protective equipment and then also demand its use. Explaining the requirements to the workers is important so that the worker would understand why these requirements have been enacted. If the background of the enacted requirements is not explained to the worker, the opposition to fulfilling the requirements might be greater.

If the worker does not follow the orders of the employer, the employer can warn the worker that the employment relationship with him will be cancelled if the worker does not adhere to the enacted requirements. If the worker does not start adhering to the requirements even after a warning has been issued, the employer has the option of cancelling the employment relationship.

Last updated: 24.09.2020 16:41

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More information about the coronavirus and restrictions related to it is available calling 1247 (from abroad +372 600 1247).