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Personal protection equipment – masks and similar

Wearing a mask helps to limit the virus particles to be carried from one person to another while coughing or sneezing. Masks are effective when used indoors in a crowded space where keeping a 2-meter distance is difficult. In outdoor environments, the particles are not carried further than 2 meters and thereby wearing a mask is not essential. Masks should not be worn at home when all family members are healthy. Masks can be bought from stores (both single-use and reusable) or you can make your own. It is important to pay attention that the masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning, 2+2 rules and with proper usage.


What rules should be observed when wearing a mask?

It is important to keep the following in mind.

  • The mask should sit on the face properly, so that the mouth and the nose are covered. If the mask has a wire to keep it in place, then the wire should sit tight around the nose, the bottom of the mask should fit under the chin.

  • If the mask has been pulled off the face, or it has been been repeatedly adjusted or touched, then the mask must be changed.

  • The maximum time period for the use of a mask bought at the pharmacy is three hours. After that it is recommended to change the mask because the top layer of the mask might have become contaminated with the virus.

  • The mask cannot be damp. A damp mask must be changed.

  • Used mask needs to be disposed to a bin with a lid or placed in a plastic bag which can be sealed. The mask must be disposed with proper care.

  • Please see the proper use of the protective mask here.

Who is the medical mask intended for and what does it achieve?

The medical or surgical mask is a single-use mask. Surgical masks are primarily intended to protect the patient during a medical procedure so that any particles or saliva breathed out by a doctor or surgeon would not reach the patient during the process and so would not cause additional complications and illnesses.

We recommend that infected people wear surgical masks to avoid spreading particles by coughing and sneezing. A surgical mask may also give some direct protection against microscopic particles and may deter you from touching your face. Surgical masks do not give complete protection against the virus, but they do sharply reduce the risk of transmission.

Surgical masks stop offering effective protection if they become wet, and once one has been taken off it cannot be used again but must be thrown away. Neither should the mask be shared as it is for use by one person only, and once it has been taken off, even briefly, it should not be used again. Pulling the mask down to the chin or taking it off for a moment is just the same as taking it off fully, and in this case it should be thrown away and a new mask should be used.

When you take a mask off it is important to observe hygiene rules for your hands properly afterwards, because a used mask may contain particles of infection. Hands must be washed after the mask is taken off. After you have taken the mask off, you should only touch your face once you have washed your hands properly.

What information must be included with a reusable mask?

According to TTJA the packaging of a reusable mask or an information sheet included with it must contain the following information:

  1. filtration efficiency and the size of particles that it has been tested with;
  2. reference to whether this is a reusable or a single use mask;
  3. in the case of a reusable mask, additional information that "the mask needs to be cleaned according to the manufacturer's instructions after every use" and instructions for cleaning/washing the product must be included. PS! The virus particles are destroyed by washing at 60 degrees or higher. For instance, if the instructions refer to washing at 40 degrees and there are no references to any other cleaning instructions that would ensure that the virus is destroyed, this kind of a product cannot be considered safe for the user for repeated use;
  4. using instructions (how the face cover/mask needs to be placed etc. -- this can be depicted with pictograms);
  5. the following information needs to also be included: "Always check that the face cover is correctly placed and covers your nose, mouth and jaw; a beard might reduce filtration efficiency." Additionally, the following information must be included: "Using a face cover does not replace other protective measures like regular hand washing, keeping a necessary distance etc.";
  6. a warning must be included: "Warning! This is not a medical mask or personal protective equipment. The face cover/mask limits the dispersal of droplets from the user's respiratory tract to the environment." (this warning must be easily noticeable);
  7. the name and contact information of the producer or the importer;
  8. the means of identifying the product (the model or batch number or similar).

The same kind of labelling must be included with the product description at an e-store.

TTJA recommends to rather refrain from buying a mask that has no information included at all or no corresponding description with the product at an e-store.

What kind of masks are preferable in the cold?

Damp and wet masks do not protect us anymore as the virus particles stick to damp material very easily. But it is not necessary to wear a mask outdoors at all. Should it become necessary for carrying out a work task, for instance, the mask should be changed out more often or every time it starts to become damp or wet (the material the mask is made out of makes no difference).

Under what conditions may an employer require their employees to use personal protective equipment?

The employer carries out a risk analysis which will show what dangers there are in the work environment. This includes biological dangers, and among them is the possibility of infection with the coronavirus. After that, they can decide what measures should be taken to avoid or reduce related risks.

Personal protective equipment must be used if the risk analysis shows that the danger of infection cannot be avoided or reduced only by shared means of protection such as protective glass to stop the spread of the virus, or through organisational measures such as maintaining distance and making disinfectant available.

The employer has the obligation to inform their employees of any possible points of danger identified during the risk analysis such as the risk of infection in particular companies or during particular work tasks, and what measures are being taken.

The employer must explain why it is necessary to use personal protective equipment and to require its use. When this is explained to the employees it is important that they understand why this requirement has been introduced. If the reasons for the requirement are not explained to the employees, there may be more opposition to complying with it.

If the employee does not comply with the construction, the employer may issue a warning that they may be dismissed if they do not follow the rules. If the employee does not abide by the rules even after the warning, the employer has the right to terminate their employment.

Where can masks be sold and what information must accompany them?

Masks can be sold everywhere -- pharmacies, construction stores, health stores, grocery stores, online stores. The important thing is that people get the correct information -- a person must know what it is she is buying, what it protects her from and how the masks should be used.

That is why the product must be accompanied by product information (name, the standanrd it meets and information on its protective properties), an instruction manual in Estonian and information on the importer.

If there is no information on protective properties of the product, it can only be advertised as a face mask.

Can a self-made mask be repeatedly used?

Yes, but the cloth masks have to be made from multilayered cloth and they must be washable at high temperatures. The mask has to be washed at 60 degrees, at the lowest. NB! Used masks must be gathered into a closed plastic bag or box. Used masks should certainly not be left lying around.

How to make a mask at home, what requirements should be considered?

If you make a mask at home, this mask is not a substitute for a medical-grade mask nor would it prevent transmission like a medical-grade mask. Wearing such a mask and using other preventative measures may reduce the risk of transmission through inhalation and it will reduce the risk of infecting other people.

Instructions on how to make a home-made mask have been published by the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority:

  • A mask must be made of a multiple-layer fabric, which can be washed at 60 degrees Celsius, and can be heat-treated.
  • Materials used in cleaning cloths and microfiber towels, a thicker dishwasher fabric, antimicrobial pillowcase are suitable for making home-made masks.
  • The material should have good breathability.
  • The mask material should not be too stiff but comfortable against the skin. It should be taken into account that constant adjusting of the mask reduces its effectiveness substantially.
  • The mask must be fixed behind the ears; a rubber band could be used. Instead of a rubber band, a ribbon can be attached to each corner of the mask, but this mask would be more difficult to affix.

Do cloth masks need to be washed after every use?

Yes, a cloth mask must be put straight into a washing machine, or a closed plastic bag or box immediately after use. The mask must be washed at a temperature of at least 60 degrees. Used masks should absolutely never be left lying around somewhere. A used mask that has been left on a shelf can disseminate the virus through airborne transmission and is thus dangerous to people in the same room.

Can wearing a mask made out of unsuitable material be harmful?

If you are wearing a mask for a longer period of time made out of an unsuitable material and it covers your nose and mouth, then microfibres, dust or other particles may enter the airways and damage them.

According to the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority the unsuitable materials are:

  • Material that is not breathable – for example, denim, leather, plastic film-like material, etc.
  • Material that is too porous, so that you can see gaps when you look through the material against the light, such material does not filter the air we inhale and exhale.
  • Impregnated material or coloured with chemical agents unsuitable for the skin.

Mask is an additional measure for preventing the spread of the virus, but it does not replace other important methods for avoiding infection such as washing hands, cleaning surfaces, and also keeping distance from other people.

Which material offers the best protection against the virus when used as a mask?

No mask can offer total protection. Any mask (even medical) is only one method which is part of a set of preventative measures - first we have to stay home if we feel unwell or sick, washing hands and keeping a distance are important. When in close contact with an infected person it is advisable to use a respirator mask that meets the requirements of the personal protective equipment. In general, other types of masks can used. All other types of masks are designed to reduce the spread of the virus. The higher the mask filtering capacity and the smaller the particles it can filter, the more effective the mask is. Masks with a sown in or added filter are preferrable.

Is there any point at all to wear a cloth mask or a cowl or is a medical mask the only face covering that makes sense in protecting against the coronavirus?

We can only say what we know. And what we know is that the effectiveness of a medical mask has been tested and it has been proven that it works. When it comes to cloth masks, sleeves and cowls, then covering your nose and mouth any in way possible is better than nothing.

When it comes to the position that masks should only be worn by people who are symptomatic, then currently we find ourselves in a situation where none of us know who might be an asymptomatic transmitter of the infection. There is no doubt that a mask worn by a symptomatic person helps to prevent the spread of the virus to other people but, just to be sure, all citizens should currently wear a mask, as we do not know who among us might be infectious.


Last updated: 3 May 2021