What face mask should I use if I work in a factory?

What face mask should I use if I work in a factory?

Welcome to “Ask Deb from QA,” a new column from MxD.

Every week, Deb from QA — with decades of experience on the factory floor — will answer your questions to demystify and explain the digital manufacturing industry.

Please submit your questions to debfromqa@mxdusa.org

Dear Deb: What face mask should I use if I work in a factory?

If you’d told me this time last year that in 2020 the whole world would be going through life with face masks on, I wouldn’t have believed you. Now it just feels normal. Look, if we’re all doing our small part to slow down the transmission of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, I’m all for it.

I know many of you work in factories, in close proximity to others, and sometimes in sweltering conditions. It’s not the most comfortable thing. So what kind of mask should you be wearing at work?

The first thing is to check with the higher-on-up folks. A good organization will have implemented a protocol for face masks in accordance with state laws. My friends at MxD have done this, and you can read about it here.

Many states are following FDA guidelines during this pandemic. The FDA places face masks into three categories: respirators (which filter airborne pathogens), surgical masks (considered medical grade), and non-surgical masks (a homemade cloth mask, for example).

Because COVID-19 is known to spread via respiratory droplets, a mask — when worn correctly — helps contain the sneezing-coughing-breathing-talking fluids of the mask-wearer. It does not make you completely safe (there may be leakage through a loose-fitting cloth mask, for example). But the efficacy of mask-wearing grows as more people wear them. Stopping the spread of infectious diseases really is a team effort. 

It’s important to remember that whether your company requires an N95 respirator or a cloth mask, the key is finding a sturdy mask that you can wear correctly. (Last week I saw a delivery person drop off a package with the mask hanging on his chin! Uh, wrong way to wear one.) 

A few pointers: 1) Remember to cover from the top of the nose to below the chin. 2) The mask should feel snug against the side of your face. 3) Ideally have a mask with multiple layers of fabric, and, 4) The mask should be durable enough to survive a washing machine.

Factories can be stiflingly hot; I get it. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, one trick I’ve used to keep cool is to take a paper towel dampened with cold water and wrap it on the back of my neck.

Of course, other rules of engagement also apply: Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, cough into your elbow, don’t touch your face, use hand sanitizer, etc.

But ultimately, your company will — or should — have protocols about face masks in your workplace. If you need more guidance, the government Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a helpful resource about face masks on its website.

The important thing is that everyone around you should wear a mask and wear it correctly. Hopefully sooner rather than later, not having to wear a face mask will be the norm again.

Assuring quality,

Deb from QA wants to hear your questions. Send ‘em to debfromqa@mxdusa.org and she’ll answer as soon she’s done with her shift.