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A Guide To Dust Masks

Dec 17

A Guide To Dust Masks

Author: Richard Beardsley

Protecting workers against the threat of breathing in dusts and airborne particles is essential to remove the risk of them contracting respiratory related illness and disease.

Worker exposure to dusts such as silica can cause potentially serious, and in some instances, life threatening respiratory diseases such as lung cancer, silicosis, occupational asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In many cases, workers who are left without proper protection and exposed to dusts and silicas will not necessarily show the signs of damage or disease until years have passed by.

Therefore prevention is critical and selecting the right types of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is key to safeguarding workers.


According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)(1):

  • There are currently approximately 12,000 deaths each year in the UK due to occupational respiratory diseases, over 70% of which are due to asbestos-related diseases or COPD
  • These are long latency diseases (they take a long time to develop following exposure to the agent that caused them) therefore current deaths reflect the impact of past working conditions
  • About 41,000 people who worked in the last year, and 147,000 who had ever worked currently have breathing or lung problems they thought were caused or made worse by work (Labour Force Survey)(2)
  • Each year there are currently an estimated 18,000 new cases of breathing or lung problems caused or made worse by work (LFS) (2)

Higher Risk Environments

Protecting workers against dust inhalation is essential no matter what sector you are operating in. However, some sectors have a higher prevalence of dust and respiratory hazards within them. These can include:

  • Construction, building and demolition - with high use of concrete, stone, brick and mortar
  • Quarrying, mining and slate processing
  • Potteries, ceramics, brick and tile manufacturing
  • Foundries
  • Refractory production and cutting
  • Concrete product manufacture
  • Architectural masonry manufacture
  • Kitchen cabinet and worktop manufacture
  • Grit and abrasive blasting, particularly on sandstone
  • Carpentry
  • Recycling
  • Agriculture

Many common construction materials contain silica including, for example, asphalt, brick, cement, concrete, drywall, grout, mortar, stone, sand, and tile. 

Protecting workers who will come into contact with substances such as dusts and silica is essential as it really only takes a small amount of silica dust to create a health hazard. 

So where workers are exposed to dusts, mists and fumes, the ideal scenario is to eradicate any possible contact between the worker and the dust hazard.

Where working practices cannot be changed to eliminate hazards completely, it is important to provide workers with the right level of respiratory protection.

The most common form of protection is dust masks.

Selecting the Right Dust Mask for Your Needs

To help ensure you are protected, all dust masks and respirators provided for use at work must be approved to the appropriate standard.

They must be marked with the latest EN standard, which for disposable respirators is EN 149: 2001 +A1 2009

FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 signify different classes of respirator, offering varying levels of protection to the wearer (assuming they fit properly and are used correctly).FFP stands for Filtering Face Piece. An FFP3 respirator should be used for all of the higher risk environments listed above.

Such respirators are designed to filter out particulates such as dust, liquids and fumes. Some manufacturers offer a simple colour-coding system to help you easily distinguish each product’s filtering performance. This makes it easy to identify the correct respirator is being used.

Dust Protection

Even if you have this information, finding a suitable respirator is not simply a matter of choosing a model you like the look of, or buying the cheapest.

There are some wider considerations you need to take into account.

  • Identify type and level of contaminant exposure
  • Evaluate airborne hazards in workplace (or workshop)
  • Choose mask based on FFP rating
  • Choose comfortable and convenient mask
  • When in doubt go with a higher level of protection


Not all faces are the same and neither are disposable respirators. You might need to try different makes or sizes to find one that fits without leaking around the seal and letting dust in.

The only way you can know if the seal is good enough is by having a proper face fit test. Currently this is also the only way of meeting legal requirements.


Fit 2 FitHaving worked closely with the BSIF and HSE in the development of a suitable accreditation scheme for Face Fit Testing, Alpha Solway were proud to be one of the first “Fit2Fit” accredited RPE Fit Test Providers. This is now recognised within the HSE 282/28 Fit Testing Guidance Notes.

The scheme confirms the competency of a particular individual to perform fit testing on tight fitting face pieces. Training in the proper use and care of Respirators has been mandatory in the COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) Regulations since 1989.

The 2002 revision of the COSHH regulations and the Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) now require that fit testing of Respiratory Protective Equipment be carried out. Only Respirators that are loose fitting and rely on airflow through the device e.g. powered helmets/hoods are exempt from Face Fit Testing.

You can find out more about our Face Fit Testing service or watch our Face Fit Testing video to learn more.


When looking at dust masks, it is important to remember that FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 are designed to filter out dust, mist and fume only. They should not be used where there is an oxygen-deficient atmosphere or harmful gases and vapours above the WEL.


Innovative solutions available in the market today includes Alpha Solway’s new Alpha FlowTM series which offers breathing protection from FFP1 to FFP3 and includes the UK’s first FFP3 charcoal filter.

The five-product Alpha Flow series has been designed to improve comfort and performance whilst maintaining a secure fit to provide enhanced breathing protection for workers being exposed to dust, mist and fumes, across a wide range of industry sectors.


For advice and support on which dust masks you need to properly protect workers, to find out more about Face Fit Testing and to request trial samples of the new Alpha FlowTM series visit, email or call +44 (0)1461 202 452.