Occupational hygienists raise concerns over N95 mask quality, fit testing

Occupational hygienists raise concerns over N95 mask quality, fit testing

Occupational hygienists are warning the public that as many move to what they perceive to be higher levels of safety in face masks, they may not be getting the promised protections.

While face mask mandates remain in many Australian states, the production standard laws are difficult to enforce, as only some of the masks used are subject to testing requirements. In recent months, the use of closer-fitting masks has risen, but in line with that, so have concerns around the quality of N95 masks.

Jane Whitelaw from the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists explained that “we don’t have a national standard that’s regulated, so the consumer has no way of really knowing if what they’re buying really is a P2 or N95 mask.

“It’s very difficult to find your way through the available information and it’s not good enough for a consumer or a professional to have to try and work their way through this maze.

“There’s been no action on calls for a central register, and that puts the public and industry at risk.”

The Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists called on the federal government two years ago to establish a national register to prevent the manufacture and sale of substandard masks. While there are some standards in place, laboratory testing is not mandatory to ensure compliance.

“There’s been over 2,000 products withdrawn from the Therapeutic Goods Administration website alone that aren’t compliant,” Ms Whitelaw said, noting that those particular products are those used in health care.

For optimal safety, N95 masks to provide a greater level of protection against airborne transmission, although as noted by Norman Swan, “If you’re wearing an N95 that hasn’t been fit tested there’s no guarantee that it’s an awful lot more effective than wearing a surgical mask.”

The AIOH are hoping that with greater awareness and action by the government that standards of products will improve, but also noted that the issue of sub par masks has been plaguing the asbestos removal, stonemasonry and mining industries for a long time.

“We need to some action straight away, because this isn’t a new issue,” Ms Whitelaw said.

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