Masks have always been considered essential personal protective equipment (PPE) in the healthcare field. However, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the need for masks in the healthcare field has increased considerably. Whereas masks were once reserved for use in specific procedures and high-risk interactions, they are now mandated for use by all healthcare professionals in all settings. In addition, the need for high-quality masks that provide adequate protection from coronavirus is also essential.
The best way to make sure the masks your using are appropriate for coronavirus protection is to consider the ASTM rating. Below is an overview of ASTM ratings to help you choose the right masks.
About ASTM Ratings
ASTM stands for "American Society of Testing and Materials." This organization sets the international standards for best practices with regards to the performance of materials in the field of healthcare.
To determine mask performance, ASTM uses several different testing methods. Some of the tests used include tests to measure:
- Fluid penetration resistance
- Differential pressure (breathability)
- Sub-micron particulate filtration efficiency
- Bacterial filtration efficiency
Understanding ASTM Levels of Protection
ASTM has developed several different levels of protection to help you understand the degree of protection each mask on the market provides. The masks offering the highest level of protection are designated as ASTM Level 3, while ASTM Level 2 and Level 1 masks provide a lesser degree of protection.
ASTM Level 1 Masks
ASTM Level 2 Masks
ASTM Level 3 Masks
ASTM Level 3 masks are designated for maximum barrier protection purposes. These masks are resistant up to 160 mm HG of pressure and have a bacterial filtration efficiency of at least 95 percent. They also filter at least 98 percent of sub-micron particulates at 0.1 micron.
ASTM Level 1 masks are most appropriate for situations involving short procedures or exams without a risk of exposure to spray, fluids or aerosols. ASTM Level 2 masks are most appropriate in situations involving a low-to-moderate risk of contact with spray, fluids or aerosols. ASTM Level 3 masks are most appropriate for situations involving a high level of contact with spray, fluids or aerosols. When situations involve contact with patients who have a known disease transmissible by aerosols, an N95 respirator is recommended.
Choosing the Right Mask
When selecting a mask for any purpose, consumers often consider all of the mask's different characteristics, including:
- ASTM level
Although securement, price and fit are important characteristics, they should not be your top priority when purchasing masks. The most important factor to consider is whether the mask will serve its intended purpose and provide the level of protection the user needs. Thus, ASTM ratings should be considered above all other characteristics.
When considering the ASTM level of the mask, keep in mind that it is better to choose a higher level material if you are not sure about the degree of risk the user will be facing. An ASTM Level 3 masks provides twice the protection of an ASTM Level 1, making it the more appropriate choice for the purpose of infection control in any situation where a healthcare worker could be exposed to moderate to high amount of fluids or aerosols. The difference between ASTM Level 2 and ASTM Level 3 masks is minimal. Always choose the higher level when in doubt about risks.
If you already have masks in your inventory, you can check their ASTM level by simply looking at the package. Current guidelines require a graphic display on the packaging that indicates the product's performance level. If the masks you have in inventory are not offering the degree of protection needed, it is in your best interests to replace these items with a higher quality option.
Med Supply Inc. is proud to offer a wide range of PPE products to meet the needs of any healthcare organization. Our products are made of the highest quality of materials to ensure full compliance with ASTM standards. Please contact us today to learn more.