Dust masks - how effective are they?

The plain dust masks workers are sometimes provided with are not really protective devices: they perform badly and should not be used for protection against fine dusts, welding fumes, asbestos, fine sand, paint spray, gases, vapours or aerosols, and other hazardous substances.

This advice has come from the Health and Safety Executive (the equivalent of WorkSafe/the Victorian WorkCover Authority), which wants the masks withdrawn from sale in the UK. The warning is in support of the Health and Safety Commission's (HSC) campaign to reduce respiratory diseases such as occupational asthma, which is the most frequently diagnosed occupational related respiratory disease in Great Britain. British unions have supported the HSE in this initiative.

In Australia, for example, the advice provided in the Compliance Code for the removal of asbestos, is that all persons engaged in asbestos removal work must wear respiratory protective equipment (RPE) conforming to the requirements of AS/NZS 1716:2012 Respiratory Protective Devices or its equivalent.

Last updated February 2015

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