picking the best mask

How to Pick the Best Mask for You.

Navigating the new world of physical distancing, constant disinfecting, and mask wearing can be a challenge. How do you pick which mask is right for you? What is the difference between a medical and a non-medical mask? We’ve put together this blog article to help answer these questions.

medical masks rule enforcement

Understanding Medical Mask Standards

Understanding Medical Mask Standards

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The first time I bought a mask was when my nephew was only a few months old. He was so little and I had a little bit of a cold, so I didn’t want to pass that along to him. I got the mask from a local pharmacy and when I went to put it on, I couldn’t even figure out which side should be facing out. Flash forward several years and masks have become a part of everyday life. I’ve finally learned how to put one on properly and I’ve learned a lot about the different types of medical standards that masks can abide by. I’m writing this article to help others understand these medical standards so that they can choose the best mask for them. 

Standard Setting Bodies

The first thing we need to cover is the standard setting bodies. Think of these organizations as the same as those who set the rules in hockey. In hockey, they set the rules for icing, for penalties, and how many skaters you can have on the ice. Standard setting bodies such as the American Society for Testing and Materials set the rules for medical masks in North America. This does not mean that they test the masks that are ultimately deemed as medical, they simply make the rules that the masks must follow, and it’s up to the manufacturer and distributor to ensure that these masks abide by the rules laid out.

Health Canada Approved Standards

As the governing body over medical equipment and pharmaceuticals in Canada, Health Canada picks the approved standards that medical masks must abide by in order to be deemed medical. This means that they are choosing the set of rules they need the masks to play by in order to meet their definition of medical. Think of American football vs rugby. They are similar sports with different sets of rules. Relating this back to medical masks, it’s up to Health Canada to review the rules, then to determine which ‘rules’ meet the standards it is looking for. Health Canada will then communicate which rules must be followed in order for the mask to be deemed medical. ,

During the pandemic, Health Canada has released several standards that it has outlined as rigorous and effective enough to be deemed as medical. These standards include ASTM-2100 (the number references the specific set of rules that ASTM has outlined) as well as the European Medical Standard EN14683 Type IIR. Masks that have testing documentation that show alignment with these Health Canada approved standards can be sold and marketed as medical. 

The Standards

Health Canada Specifications for Covid-19 products

What’s the difference?

When you look at the table, the majority of the numbers fall into a similar range. ASTM has 3 levels of increasing bacterial filtering efficiency requirements (BFE) and particulate filtering efficiency requirements (PFE). Level 3 also has an increased requirement for splash resistance because these masks are most typically used in a dental office with increased chance for splashes and sprays in close quarters.

The EN14683 Type IIR standard most closely aligns with ASTM-2100 Type 3, but does not have a ‘rule’ around how good it needs to be at PFE. This simply means that the mask does not need to be tested for PFE in order to pass the test, it does not mean that it has an inferior capability to filter particles.

During the pandemic, Health Canada has released several standards that it has outlined as rigorous and effective enough to be deemed as medical. These standards include ASTM-2100 (the number references the specific set of rules that ASTM has outlined) as well as the European Medical Standard EN14683 Type IIR. Masks that have testing documentation that show alignment with these Health Canada approved standards can be sold and marketed as medical. 

What standard do First Defence Canadian Made Medical Face Masks meet?

First Defence Medical Masks are tested to and comply with the ASTM-2100 Level 3 Standard. This means that the medical masks available through our e-commerce store abide by a medical standard that is approved by Health Canada. First Defence Face Masks hold a Medical Device Establishment Licence which is a Health Canada issued credential that authorizes us to distribute medical-grade products. This means that when you shop for medical masks with First Defence, you know you’re getting a mask that aligns with a Health Canada approved standard, and is of the highest-quality. See below for a summary of our testing results:

Test  ASTM 2100 Level 3 First Defence Medical Face Mask
Bacterial Filtration Efficiency, % ≥98 99.9+
Differential Pressure, Pa/cm2 <49.0 Pass
Submicron particulate filtration efficiency at 0.1 micron, % ≥98 98+
Splash Resistance/Synthetic Blood Resistance, mmHg 160 Pass
Flame Spread Class I Class I

What standard do First Defence Imported Medical Face Masks meet?

First Defence Medical Masks are tested to and comply with the EN14683 Type IIR. This means that the medical masks available through our e-commerce store abide by a medical standard that is approved by Health Canada. First Defence Face Masks hold a Medical Device Establishment Licence which is a Health Canada issued credential that authorizes us to distribute medical-grade products. This means that when you shop for medical masks with First Defence, you know you’re getting a mask that aligns with a Health Canada approved standard, and is of the highest-quality. See below for a summary of our testing results:

Test  EN 14683 Type IIR First Defence Medical Face Mask
Bacterial Filtration Efficiency, % ≥98 99.7
Differential Pressure, Pa/cm2 <60.0 33.0
Submicron particulate filtration efficiency at 0.1 micron, % N/A N/A
Splash Resistance/Synthetic Blood Resistance, mmHg 16.0kPa >16.0
Flame Spread N/A N/A

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Disposable Masks and the Environment

In what seems like the blink of an eye, global mask sales are more than 166x greater than in 2019. From hospitals to factories, from small businesses to the grocery-store, everyone has been encouraged to ‘mask-up’. With such a large increase in a disposable product, it must make us stop and consider how we can ensure that this does not have negative effects on our planet. We must ask ourselves how we can ensure the safety of others by wearing disposable face masks, while balancing the need to take care of our planet. 

The short term solution is a simple one, and the burden falls solely on the user. Cut the straps, and find a bin. By placing your disposable mask in the trash every time, you make sure that it’s not finding its way into our oceans and waterways, and the mask won’t have the chance to affect vulnerable ecosystems. Another common tactic is to place your used masks on the rearview mirror of your car. If you can’t find a bin, hang it up and dispose of it later. This strategy seems akin to the Reduce, Re-use, and Recycle mantra we learned in elementary school. 

This won’t be quite enough, though. Just as the burden of reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change is not the sole responsibility of consumers, we need businesses to take charge and make proper investments in the disposal and recycling of mask materials. A recent study coming from the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies suggested that the polypropylene fibers used in disposable face masks could be recycled and turned into biofuel. According to the researchers, “It is an efficient and economical method of recycling polypropylene,” they argue that chemical recycling can not only prevent plastic pollution that would cause “effects to humankind and the environment,” but can also create a “clean” liquid fuel to meet increasing global energy demand.

Other efforts are underway to create re-usable PPE kits that effectively stop droplets and sprays using washable filters or sanitization methods. These efforts are taking into consideration the fight against Covid-19 and encouraging the use of effective PPE, while also tackling the worries of increased medical waste. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a success story that showed medical grade masks could be decontaminated and reused safely. 

These concerted efforts to balance the importance of proper PPE to stop the spread, and decreasing waste released into our environment are a positive sign. More work must be done and we all need to do our part to ensure that each and every disposable mask makes its way into the bin. First Defence will be keeping a close eye on the developments in recyclable face masks with proven efficacy in stopping droplets and sprays. Until that time, we ask for your help in cutting the straps and finding a bin. If there isn’t a bin, proudly hang disposable masks from the car mirror to proudly show they aren’t being littered on the street.

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Press Release: Calgary Company Donates Medical Face Masks to Canadian Businesses in Need

A Calgary-based company, First Defence Face Masks recently donated 2,500 disposable face masks to Canadian businesses in need.

First Defence Face Masks provides medical face masks to Alberta Health Services, health care clinics and large-scale businesses, however in recent turn of events, they pivoted their business to make PPE and medical masks accessible to individuals and small businesses.
Follow these Do’s and Don’ts on how to properly wear a medical or non-medical mask.

Canadian PPE Supply chain

Bringing Critical Supply Chains Back to Canada

First Defence has been importing and distributing products for nearly 5 years. We thought we had a handle on the supply chain and had set-up efficient processes for ensuring that our customers get a high-quality product every time, on-time. Enter in Covid-19… 

The cost to ship 1,000,000 medical masks ballooned from $50,000 to $200,000 overnight. PPE pirates were stealing critical supplies meant to come to Canada. Trust had quickly eroded and suppliers were not releasing shipments without 100% payment up-front. The well-being of our front-line workers and Canada’s ability to stop the spread of Covid-19 was completely out of our hands. 

Fortunately, our experience and trusted relationships with our overseas suppliers allowed us to successfully import over 1 million medical masks at the height of the pandemic. These were provided to front-line workers in Alberta. Although we were successful with our imports, we knew this was not sustainable. With the unpredictable costs and timelines for shipping, the increased risk of hi-jacked cargo, and the inconsistent quality of supply put all Canadians at risk. 

This is why we’ve made a plan to support local manufacturers and encourage consumers to invest their dollars in locally-made products. Our partnership with a Calgary-based manufacturer has allowed us to bring the first disposable mask for daily-use to the Canadian public. When you buy our Premium Daily Wear Face Mask your dollars are flowing right back into the Canadian economy and you are helping to ensure that we do not need to look overseas for our most critical supplies. 

At this point in time, Canadian disposable masks are more expensive than an imported mask. We believe that with time and consistent investment, our cost will begin to fall, and we’ll be able to compete on a global scale for these products. As we’ve seen with the rise of the Covid-19 pandemic, when Canada does not have access to critical PPE, our front-line workers suffer and Canadians’ end up in harm’s way. 

Help us to bring our critical supply chains back from overseas and support a locally-made mask today:

purpose and profit balance

Becoming a Purpose-Driven Organization

There are two buzzwords that always seem to make their way into the conversation when talking about business: ‘Culture’ & ‘Bottom-line’. They seem to slip off the tongue without registering meaning to the speaker. What comes first? Does a strong culture precede a strong bottom-line? Do you need to ensure that you are turning a profit before going back to focus on building a strong culture? These questions have been on my mind ever since diving into the world of entrepreneurship earlier this year. I wanted to find a way to reconcile the problem of doing good and needing to make money. 

As we started First Defence Face Masks, we spoke about borrowing from the business models of Toms or TenTree. We brainstormed ways that we could directly tie purchases from our customers into giving to those in need. Throughout this exercise, though, we struggled to commit to this approach. The market was unclear, we did not have any consistent customers, and the marketplace for our product favoured the lowest price. If we were to cut into our profit margin to give to others, we may not have enough to keep the doors open. 

Six months flew by and we have continued to build the foundation of our business and validate/invalidate small hypotheses: 

  • Will businesses/individuals buy masks online? 
  • Do people need to feel and touch a mask before buying it? 
  • Do people care enough to spend more on a mask made in Canada? 

While we continued to experiment with these questions, our vision of building a business with purpose-driven profits remained. This vision had been looming since the beginning and we decided it was time to test whether a purpose-driven strategy would resonate with customers and grow the pie rather than cut it in half. 

This led us to create our Linkedin Campaign and encourage my connections to share and like a post in exchange for First Defence donations to charities and businesses in need. The response was overwhelming. We had over 1,800 post views, more than 100 likes, and over 20 shares. Most importantly we were able to connect with 3 incredible organizations that we have been able to support. 

  1. Smiles Foundation offers dental treatments and preventative health education to children and adults through their permanent and mobile dental clinics in the Dominican Republic. During Covid-19, quality face masks have become more expensive and very difficult to procure. We’ll be working closely with the team to provide medical face masks donations so their volunteers can do their work safely. 
  2. Inspire Our Nation is a youth conference with the mission of inspiring youth to overcome struggle and influence the world in positive ways. Our mask donation will help the conference host small ‘watch parties’ as the conference has moved online. This will allow the attendees to get together in small groups and allow the conference to have the biggest impact on the kids. 
  3. Central Bark Doggy Daycare is a local Calgary business that has been greatly affected by Covid-19. Despite this, they have managed to stay open and donated their time providing free grooms to those in need and raising funds for rescues and non profits. Our mask donation will help them get rid of the cost of procuring high-quality masks and allow them to focus on showering all the puppies with love and affection. 

I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to engage with our post on Linkedin and encourage you to fill out the form and nominate an organization in need. We’ve certainly validated the fact that a purpose-driven strategy creates a multiplier effect and allows us to grow our business while growing the impact that we can have in the community. Look for more from us in the near future. 

Mitch & the First Defence Team