what you need to know before buying masks for your company


COVID-19: what you need to know before buying masks for your company

May. 5 2020

In pandemic times, many companies are looking for masks to protect their employees. A difficult task at times. You have to know how to choose the right type, find a salesperson or a manufacturer capable of delivering the required products, but also avoid non-compliant masks, potentially ineffective!


Whether or not wearing a mask is a legal obligation, "the employer must take measures to ensure the safety of his employees, by guaranteeing them a safe and healthy working environment" reminds Rubia Almeida, Quality, Risks, Safety, Health and Environment Director at Bureau Veritas Africa. During this pandemic period, companies will eventually have to be able to provide masks to all employees who are required to be in close contact with other people, knowing that in all cases wearing a mask complements the barrier gestures but does not replace them.


Until a few weeks ago, there were two types of masks: protective masks and surgical masks. A new family has appeared: the "barrier" masks (or alternative masks). The choice between these three types of masks depends on the context.

  • Disposable protective masks (FFP1, FFP2, FFP3...) protect the wearer by filtering the air he breathes. They are used by medical staff in contact with patients, but also traditionally in industry. They are in fact PPE that equip workers in environments exposed to dust, aerosols, smokes, etc.
  • Surgical masks protect others by blocking the droplets emitted when the wearer coughs, talks, breathes... They are medical equipment, which were first recommended for patients (or in case of suspicion of disease). "But if, in offices or shops, everyone wears a mask and respects the barrier gestures (social distancing, regular hand washing, etc.), the risk of contamination could be better controlled," emphasizes Rubia Almeida.
  • Barrier masks also protect others, with an inferior performance that depends on the model: nature of the fabric, insertion of a disposable filter... Here again, if all the people present wear their mask and respect the barrier gestures, their effectiveness is sufficient for a limited proximity in time, in transport as well as in the workplace.

So what model to choose?" The company must adapt its choice to the working conditions of its employees. In a workshop exposed to dust or smoke, if FFP2 or FFP3 masks were already in use, the same masks must of course be kept. At the same time, companies, after implementing collective and organizational protection measures to ensure the health and safety of their employees, will have to assess whether the provision of alternative masks is appropriate for the residual risks incurred at the workstations," summarises Rubia Almeida.


For equipment designed to ensure the safety of employees, vigilance is more important than ever. But what criteria should you rely on when choosing a supplier and a product?

"In recent weeks, we have been increasingly solicited by companies who ask us to validate the conformity of documents provided with the FFP or surgical masks they are considering ordering. Indeed, these masks are subject to precise standards, but the regulations are complex, as different standards are applied in the different producing countries," alerts Rubia Almeida. In addition, to alleviate the shortage, the normative obligations have been temporarily relaxed by some countries for the import of FFP and surgical masks. Thus masks without test reports and without proof of conformity can be made available to the African market. We specify to the company which documents it must request from the importer, such as declarations of conformity, test reports, photos of the products and packaging, and examine them to verify that the masks meet the normative and regulatory requirements in force. For several weeks now we have been seeing more and more false certificates in circulation".


However, no standard or regulation exists for alternative fabric masks, which are subject to a self-declaration of conformity with the AFNOR S76-001 specification. As a precaution, it is better to turn to a model that has already been tested and has proven its effectiveness.

"But beware," insists Rubia Almeida, "it is not enough to equip your employees. You also need to inform them about the correct use of masks and remind them of barrier gestures. Wearing a mask is only one element of protection among others, all of which are equally important. Some companies will also have to think about making sure that the premises and equipment are functional and safe when they resume their activity for a short period of time. For example, bacteria such as Legionella may have developed in sanitary water systems during a prolonged phase of reduced activity. Fighting COVID-19 should not make you forget the other risks! ».


The duration of use of a disposable mask is only 4 hours, so two per day and per employee. Don't underestimate your needs when ordering, take into account the delivery time (and sometimes the manufacturing time) and think about anticipating customs formalities. Our teams will guide the many companies that are not used to importing goods,