With the 2019-nCoV (Coronavirus) headlining the news, attention has been focused on respirators. Most of the images on news sites show pictures of people wearing disposable surgical masks which offer very little, if any, protection.
At a minimum people should be wearing a respirator that has passed a relevant standard to confirm that it can filter aerosols, droplets and particulates. In New Zealand and Australia, the standard is 1716:2012. A minimum level of protection for something like the Coronavirus would be a P2 respiratory which has a filter efficiency of >94%. These are available as disposable respirators or reusable respirators.
Recently, we had a conversation with a government agency, that I won’t name. They were looking to buy disposable P2 respirators for their staff who would be interacting with the public. They were working under the misconception that disposable respirators were a better option because they would be cheaper and offer the same level of protection as a reusable respirator.
After we worked through what they were trying to achieve, how long they would be wearing the respirators each day, for how many days and how many staff, we were able to show them that a reusable respirator was going to save them over 75%! We thought you make like to see how we worked this out…
|Disposable Respirator P2
|Reusable Half Mask with P2 Filters
|Hours per day (respiratory to be worn)
|Changes per days
|Days expected to wear
|Cost per mask1
|Cost per filters (Pair)2
|Frequency of filter change3
|Total cost per person over 4 weeks (20 days)
|Number of staff
|Total cost for all staff over 4 weeks (20 days)
1 Cost for 3M™ P2 Valved Cupped Particulate Respirator 8322, Pack of 10 for $69.56+GST came from OfficeMax website on 11/2/20. Cost for Shigematsu RX01 came from ph7 International RRP.
2 Cost for Shigematsu P2R filters came from ph7 International RRP.
3 Assumed a fresh set of filters each week
And just incase you thought a 76% saving wasn’t enough, we also pointed out that reusable half masks were much more likely to pass a fit test, were more comfortable to wear for prolonged periods thanks to the silicon facepiece, had more adjustment points and in this case the Shigematsu RX01 also had a built in speech diaphragm, which turned out to be very important as the wearers were going to have to speak to the public so being heard and understood was paramount.
So next time someone tries to tell you that disposable masks are cheaper than reusable respirators, take a moment to understand what they’re going to be using them for, how frequently they need to change them and what they cost per mask. You too may find that the assumption that disposable masks are always cheaper than reusable respirators is about as useful as a surgical mask is to protect against the Coronavirus.