What’s the Difference Between N95 and FFP Masks?
By Alexandra Serban
July 22, 2020
Honeywell will start producing 70 million FFP2 and FFP3 masks for frontline workers in the United Kingdom. But what exactly are FFP masks and how do they differ from N95 filtering facepiece respirators? A brief explanation, below.
Each region has its own standards and regulations.
In the United States, respirators must meet NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) standards. NIOSH classifies respirators in three categories, based on the degree of oil resistance:
- Class N - no oil resistance. E.g. N95, N99 and N100, where the number after the letter indicates the percentage of filtration of suspended particles.
- Class R - resistant to oil for up to eight hours. E.g. R95, R99 and R100.
- Class P - completely oil-resistant. E.g. P95, P99 and P100.
In Europe, PPE must be designed, manufactured, tested, marked and packaged according to European standards. Each product is marked “CE” and displays a relevant EN code which means they are approved by European safety, health and environmental protection standards. More information on PPE CE markings, here.
Respirators must meet the European standard EN 149: 2001. The CE markings apply to three classes of disposable particulate respirators: FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3. FFP stands for Filtering Facepiece.
- FFP1 is the least filtering, with an aerosol filtration of 80% and leakage to the inside of the mask of maximum 22%. It protects against non-toxic fine dust up to 4 times the limit value. The limit value refers to contaminants concentrations.
- FFP2 has a 94% minimum filtration and 8% leakage to the inside. It protects against fine dusts up to 10 times the limit value. Or better said, it can reduce the amount of dusts by factor of 10. They are used by construction, agriculture and healthcare professionals.
- FFP3 masks offer a 99% filtration percentage and a maximum 2% leakage, protecting against very fine particles, up to 30 times the limit value.
The Honeywell SuperOne 3205 - FFP2 NR D, for instance, can be used in atmospheres containing solid and/or liquid aerosols in concentrations up to 12 times the limit value x WEL.
The “NR” symbol stands for “non-reusable”. This means the mask can’t be re-worn.
The "D" symbol indicates that the mask meets the additional requirement of standard EN 149, the dolomite clogging test. This test checks whether the mask maintains a good level of breathing resistance after being subjected to high levels of dolomite dust.
WEL is the Workplace Exposure Limit and represents the concentration of hazardous substances in the air. WELs are subject to two time-weighted averages (TWAs):
- the long-term exposure limit (LTEL) or 8-hour reference period
- the short-term exposure limit (STEL) or 15-minute reference period.
Each hazard has its own WEL and in the UK, WELs are set by the Health & Safety Commission (HSC). WELs apply to substances like arsenic, asphalt, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, cement, flour dust, gypsum, hardwood dust, limestone and petroleum fumes.
To find out current workplace exposure limits (WELs) check out the HSE website.
In the US, Cal/OSHA has established an extensive list of PELs (Cal/OSHA AC-1 Table) that are enforced in workplaces under its jurisdiction.
When it comes to respiratory protection efficiency, there are two other key concepts to consider.
The Assigned Protection Factor (APF) indicates the level of protection to be expected if the RPE is correctly fitted and fully functional when used by trained workers. An APF of 10 will reduce the hazard level inside the respirator to one tenth of what it is outside the respirator. An APF of 4 with reduce it to one quarter of what it is outside the respirator.
APFs are used to select the appropriate class of respirators that will provide the necessary level of protection, OSHA says. The higher the APF, the greater the level of protection.
As defined by OSHA, the Maximum Use Concentration (MUC) is the maximum atmospheric concentration of a hazardous substance from which an employee can be expected to be protected when wearing a respirator. Whenever the exposures approach the MUC, the employer should select the next higher class of respirators. The MUC for respirators is calculated by multiplying the APF for the respirator by the PEL.
FFP2 or N95, fit is key
The filtering capacity of the FFP2s is closest to the N95 respirators, though the European standards for other functional aspects of the respirators differ from the US standards.
However bear in mind, the protection level offered by a filter facepiece particulate respirator will be influenced by how well the respirator seals against your face. Masks that are not fit-tested, or masks which have sealing surfaces interrupted by facial hair, cannot provide their intended level of protection.
A seal check needs to be performed by the wearer each time the respirator is put on. It determines if the respirator is properly seated on the face or needs to be readjusted, according to OSHA. Leak-tightness is unlikely to be achieved if the mask is worn against a beard or facial stubble.
Want to learn more about masks? Read this article on how to correctly put on a Honeywell disposable N95 mask.