Loss Control Services


COVID19 Differences between Masks and Respirators Bulletin  

The COVID-19 pandemic may have resulted in some confusion with terms like ‘mask’, ‘face covering’, and ‘respirator’. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that individuals wear a mask (or ‘face covering’) to help reduce the spread of the virus, while reserving respirators for medical workers. There is publicly available information on websites* with discussions of the differences between a mask and a respirator, how they can be used, and their respective purposes. Some of this information is provided below for the convenience of Farmers® insurance customers. While no one agency can offer any assurances that any recommendation will prevent the spread of COVID-19, this bulletin could be helpful for employers who may want more information.


What is it?  A loose-fitting item that may be tied on an individual or has elastic bands to hold it in place. Bandanas, t-shirts, as well as manufactured surgical masks are known as masks or face coverings. How is a mask used? It may be composed of various material, such as cloth or fiber, allowing air flow around the material. A mask does not require the wearer to pull air through the fabric. Who is the recommended user of a mask? Masks are recommended to be worn by anyone in order to help reduce the spread of respiratory droplets and the COVID-19 virus from the individual wearing the mask.


What is it?  A device approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that is attached to the individual with secure-fitting elastic bands or straps. It has a specific filtering material designed for the identified exposure.

How is a respirator used? It’s tight fitting and requires the individual to pull air through the filtering material, which may cause fatigue.

Who is the recommended user of a respirator? A respirator should only be worn by individuals who are working in a hazardous environment to help ensure they have adequate protection. Those wearing respirators should be prepared and trained on how to properly wear them.


  • Persons diagnosed or suspected to have COVID-19 should not wear a respirator with an exhalation valve as it likely to result in spreading respiratory droplets and the virus further than the recommended minimum distancing guidelines.**
  • Disposal and storage of contaminated respirators should be coordinated prior to implementation. Regular face cover washing with soap and water is required.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations (29 CFR 1910.134) require fit test, medical evaluation, and a written program if employers require respirators in the workplace.

A helpful CDC reference is at https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/pdfs/UnderstandDifferenceInfographic-508.pdf. Using a mask or respirator can offer a layer of protection but should not be considered a substitute for staying informed and following current CDC recommendations.

Following CDC guidelines and taking reasonable precautions, and understanding the differences between the types of personal protective equipment can help make employees and your workplace more efficient and safe.


https://multimedia.3m.com/mws/media/323208O/n95-particulaterespirators-1860-1860s-1870-faqs.pdf **


This bulletin is intended for informational purposes only and is offered solely as a guide to assist management in its responsibility of providing a safer working environment. This bulletin is not intended to cover all possible hazardous conditions or unsafe acts that may exist, especially during a pandemic. Other unsafe acts or hazardous conditions should also be noted and corrective action taken. In addition, federal, state or local laws, regulations, standards or codes, as applicable, can change and the user should refer to the most current requirements.