When are respirator face masks used?

12 Jan 2022
Categories: News

The first blog in this series provided a face mask overview – the medical face mask guide. The second provided more detail about the masks we are most familiar with, surgical masks. Here I will go into more detail about how respirator face masks are used.


Respirator face masks

Respirator face masks are higher-quality masks than surgical masks. Both have high standards of filtration because of the manufacturing process used to make the synthetic material but respirator masks protect the wearer as well as the people around them. There are 3 main respirator face mask classes:

  1. FFP2
  2. FFP3
  3. N95

FFP stands for Filtering Face Piece. The flat-fold FFP respirator masks Irema makes fit closely over the mouth and have an adjustable nose piece. They are held in place by two elastic loops which go around the head and neck. Their lifespan is from 3 to 8 hours depending on environmental factors.

“One of the reasons we prefer flat duck bill style masks is because if you haven’t got everybody fit tested, it’s probably less critical with the FFP2 flat duckbill style masks than it is with other masks.” Professor Martin Cormican

Below is a video showing how to put on a respirator face mask. It uses Irema’s Facemate in the practical example!


These three classes of respirator masks are all highly fluid resistant and are effective at protecting the wearer from inhaling particles and viruses such as Covid-19 when someone close by coughs or sneezes. FFP masks now more commonly don’t have a valve as the valve does not protect others as well as those without a valve.


FFP2 respirator face masks

FFP2 respirator masks have a Bacteria Filtration Efficiency (BFE) of =/>94% of all particles measuring up to 0.3μm.

Surgical or FFP2 masks are worn when providing care within 2 metres of any patient, or when working within 2 metres of another healthcare worker for more than 15 minutes. They provide a certain level of protection against viruses for the wearer but should not be used when in contact with highly infectious patients.


  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Elder care (home visits)

On 24 Dec 21, the Irish Health Service, HSE, updated its guidance to state that FFP2 masks must be worn by healthcare workers in all settings where they are caring for patients. In January 2021, it became law for individuals to wear respirator masks in Germany  Some other EU countries have followed suit. As of 12 Jan 22, FFP (or surgical, medical grade) masks are recommended for anybody who has been a close contact of a Covid-19 case in Ireland, but don’t have symptoms, as people with boosters no longer need to isolate.

FFP3 respirator face masksrespirator face masks

FFP3 respirator masks have a BFE =/>99% of all particles measuring up to 0.3μm.

Because of the higher filtration, FFP3 masks better protect the wearer from droplet aerosols, protein molecules, viruses, bacteria, fungi and spores and even from highly dangerous dusts such as asbestos fibers. In Europe, we tend to use both FFP3 and FFP2 to protect against Covid-19.


  • High risk environments such as pharmaceutical research
  • Surgery
  • Hospitals

FFP2 or FFP3 masks must be worn in AGPs. AGPs or Aerosol-generating procedures are procedures that stimulate coughing and promote the generation of aerosols such as intubation or manual ventilation. They are worn together with other PPE such as clothing (aprons or gowns), gloves and goggles.

FFP3 masks — together with all other PPE — are used in quarantine stations, for example, where infected patients are cared for.

FFP1 and FFP2 masks are also used outside of hospital settings in dusty environments such as carpentry or with aerosols such as paint.


N95 respirator face masks

N95 masks have a BFE =/>95 of all particles measuring up to 0.6μ. Studies have shown that they have similar effectiveness as FFP2.

The FFP figure is achieved by testing masks using sodium chloride (salt) particles and paraffin oil. The N95 certification process only tests using sodium chloride.


  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Elder care (home visits)

Here’s a poster showing the safest way to put on a respirator mask from the Irish Health Service (also featuring Irema’s Facemate).



The FFP 2 and FFP 3 masks must conform to EN1492001 and be

  • Fit tested by a trained professional (less important with flat-fold duck bill)
  • Fit checked by the wearer
  • Put on before entering an isolation room
  • Changed when torn or damaged
  • Removed and disposed of as per local waste policy


Did you know that FFP style masks don’t work so well if you have a beard? You need to be clean shaven to ensure that the mask fits tight against the face.


Related posts

The Irema medical face mask guide

When are surgical face masks used

How to buy Irema respirator masks

The general public can buy Irema FFP2, FFP3 and N95 masks on the StaySafe.ie website. Healthcare professionals should order through Promedicare in Ireland and other medical distributors around the world. You can also order directly from Irema with a minimum order of one pallet which is 100 cases with 4 boxes per case and 25 individually wrapped masks per box (10,000 masks). Contact Irema to order.

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