Before 2020, most people who didn’t work in health and safety or who weren’t required to wear PPE for their job knew what the acronym means. By March of that year, the coronavirus pandemic had ensured that the term personal protective equipment (PPE) was now on everyone’s lips.
Since then, news reports and social interactions have been dominated with discussions about masks. Health agencies, governments, and private businesses have provided guidance and policies about wearing masks in public, while the early stages of the pandemic saw massive supply chain failures endanger the flow of critical supplies of PPE like N95 respirators to the healthcare workers who needed them most. Since most people don’t typically keep a supply of personal PPE such as masks available to them at all times, the mandates requiring masks in public created a surging demand for cloth masks, which was met by various entrepreneurs, clothiers, and opportunists pivoting from their normal course of business to provide some measure of protection to the general public.
With the production of facemasks for the public coming largely from unregulated sources, the British Standards Institute (BSI) has created a new specification for the minimum performance requirements and test methods for community face coverings. Version 1 of BSI Flex 5555 Community face coverings – Specification is currently open for comment on the BSI website. It builds on the foundation provided by CEN Workshop Agreement, Community face coverings—Guide to minimum requirements, methods of testing and use, which is currently being developed as a CEN (European Committee for Standardization) standard.
BSI Flex 5555 is intended to provide guidance on the performance of facemasks for the general public. According to health agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), masks—even homemade cloth masks—can provide significant protection from person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus. By providing a barrier against projection of respiratory secretions resulting from talking, coughing, or sneezing in a community setting, masks help protect both the person wearing it and people in the vicinity. The WHO has identified masks as a critical part of a comprehensive strategy to limit the community transmission of COVID-19.
BSI Flex 5555 addresses the minimum requirements for the following properties relating to community masks:
- Test Methods
- Information for use.
Of particular note are the labeling requirements for mask producers, which include information that clearly identifies the manufacturer, the address at which they can be contacted, and the type of user for which the mask is intended. Other sections cover important product features like permeability of the material, fasteners, and breathing resistance.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on throughout the world, standards organizations like BSI are helping to ensure that the EHS practices that keep workers safe on the job every day can be deployed to protect the general public during a time of unprecedented upheaval.