The 3-step guide to respiratory protection

Posted on2023-12-01

What you breathe matters. Choose well.

The mask must also be appropriate for the user, the task, and the environment; For example, an exhalation valve can help reduce heat buildup within the mask and may be more suitable than a mask without a valve for users who must perform physically active tasks.

Choosing the right mask can be a challenge. Follow our 3-step guide to help you reduce your workers' exposure to dangerous airborne particles in the workplace.

Check it

Quality is essential for respiratory protective equipment (RPE).

If the quality of the mask does not meet country and industry requirements, it may not provide adequate protection to the wearer.

Is the product approved according to local regulatory requirements? Check local requirements, as regulations differ around the world.

Follow our checklist for other factors to consider when choosing a mask.


Is the product suitable for application? Choosing the right mask is crucial. No matter how well-made a mask is, it cannot help reduce exposure to dangers for which it was not designed.

Check it out:

1. Identify hazards and know the risks.

2. Implement control measures and decide whether EPR is required.

3. Determine the type and level of protection required.

Choose an appropriate mask.

CE marking: Masks sold in the EU must be approved according to EN standards and the CE marking number must appear on the product. Masks approved CE Category III always have the letters 'CE' followed by 4 digits. The digits refer to the notified body responsible for the conformity assessment of PPE.

Has the product been certified by the appropriate regulatory body? You can check whether the notified body is authorised to approve PPE by checking that it refers to Regulation (EU) 2016/425 - Personal Protective Equipment Regulation in its list in the European Commission's NANDO database*. Some notified bodies also offer a service enabling the purchaser to verify that the EC certificate issued and shared by a PPE manufacturer is authentic.

Council of 3M: Disposable masks of 3M™ are marked with CE 2797

Is it the product of a trusted vendor? Demand for disposable masks skyrocketed during the pandemic. This, in turn, has led to an influx of new manufacturers and suppliers into the market, some of which may not follow the same quality control processes as other manufacturers.

Forged masks: The increase in demand has led to a rise in counterfeit masks flooding the market. These products often do not offer the necessary level of protection against harmful particles and substances.

Don't endanger yourself or others by making the mistake of thinking that fake masks look real and therefore work. Check that the product has been tested or certified to meet rigorous regulatory safety standards.

Other checks to be considered:

• Price: Counterfeit products are often sold at a lower price than genuine products, making them attractive to buyers who want to save money.
• Product fit: counterfeit products may not fit properly, which may lead to air leakage and reduce their effectiveness.
• Materials: In the case of counterfeit products, the workmanship and materials may also be of poor quality, which can lead to product failures during use.
• The seller: it is recommended to buy respiratory protection products from a trusted manufacturer and authorised distributor.

Check the expiry date: For disposable masks 3MTm, look for the following symbol on the product packaging. After this date, the products should not be used.

End of storage life. The date format is AAAA/MM/DD

Make sure you store the product properly. See the information provided in the Instructions for Use. Products should be stored in their original packaging, away from contaminated areas, dust, sunlight, extreme temperatures, excessive humidity and harmful chemical agents.

Check the condition of your mask. If it is dirty, damaged, or makes breathing difficult, you should discard it and replace it. Devices marked as 'NR' (not reusable) must always be replaced at the end of the shift.

Council of 3M: For more information on where to buy masks 3MTm, visit our product catalog.

Adjust it

The adjustment is individual: no face is the same, so a mask model fits different people differently.

A mask must be able to provide adequate protection to its user. It cannot help protect the user if there is a leak between the mask and the user's face.

One of the main causes of leaks is poor fit: tight-fitting facepieces, such as disposable masks, half masks, or full masks (including those that fit a powered respirator), must fit the user's face to be effective .

Follow our checklist for more information on mask fit.


Has the user's facial fit been checked with the specific model and brand?

If a user requires more than one type of mask fit, each type of mask should be tested for fit.

The best time to do the fit test is at the initial selection stage, when different users can choose suitable EPR models.

You must ensure that the make, model, type and size of the mask that was used when the wearer passed the fit test correctly is available for use.

Take the time to educate the user on how to use the mask correctly.

They should practice wearing their mask to ensure that it fits correctly, is comfortable, and can be worn for as long as necessary given the demands of their job.

Is a user seal check carried out daily to ensure the mask is properly sealed? No matter how many times a user removes their mask during the day, each time they put it back on, a user seal check must be performed.

The following sealing check procedure should always be followed each time a disposable mask is used.

1. Cover the front of the mask with both hands, being careful not to misalign it.

Check of sealing
(b). Mask WITH VALVE: INHALE deeply

3. If there are air leaks around the nose, readjust the nose clip/face fitting piece to eliminate them. Repeat the sealing check.

If there are air leaks at the edges of the mask, reinsert and readjust the head straps to remove them. Repeat the seal check.

Council of 3M: If you cannot achieve a proper seal, do not enter the contaminated environment.

Use it

This may be obvious, but the mask must be used correctly at all times of possible exposure to provide the expected protection.

• Perform a user seal check every time you replace your mask.

• Read user instructions

Follow our checklist for other factors to consider when wearing a mask.


The tight fitting masks they should fit snugly against the face to create a proper seal. It is important for users to understand this and know how to fit their mask correctly.

• Gaps in this face fitting allow contaminated air to enter the mask.

• The mask filters cannot clean air that is bypassed by the filter and seeps through the facepiece.

Is the mask compatible with the rest of the PPE being used?

• In many workplaces there is a requirement to wear more than one type of PPE at a time. Although the items of PPE required will be individually CE marked and fully approved in accordance with the relevant harmonized European standards, this does not necessarily mean that, as a whole, they will fit well to the wearer.

• PPE compatibility should be evaluated for each person to determine if the PPE can be used so that no item compromises the ability of another to help protect the wearer.

• Remember to ensure that any other head-mounted PPE that must be worn while working is also worn during a face fit test.

Being clean shaven is important to achieve respiratory protection.

Particles, gases and vapors can pass through facial hair which prevents a proper seal and thus expose the user.

Studies have shown that the presence of facial hair can significantly reduce expected levels of protection.

Even a day or two of beard, mustache, or sideburn growth can be enough to significantly interfere with the fit of the mask and allow escape routes for contaminants.

To achieve the expected level of respiratory protection, it is best to be clean shaven, but there are some types of facial hair that may be suitable.

Make sure you help protect your employees from exposure to dangerous airborne particles.


The 3-step guide to respiratory protection 3M - PDF

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