A guide to European standards

With safety and #StoppingTheSpread our number one priorities at ISKO Vital+, we are extremely proud to have successfully completed the rigorous testing process to become the first company to receive the new NEN Dutch certification for community face covers. 

We are already getting questions from customers and the general public about what this means and why it’s important, so let’s start by explaining what it is. The certification is based on the NEN-spec 1-2 that aims to ensure the quality and efficiency of community face covers by setting strict requirements for anyone who manufactures these public health items.

NEN follows AFNOR Spec S76-001 in France, UNE 0065 in Spain and a raft of other certification programmes in EU countries; all designed to qualify the quality of reusable face coverings, also known as ‘civilian’ or ‘community’ face coverings, or ‘non-medical face masks’.  When it comes to certifications, each country has its own specifications around design, manufacturing, fit and filtration, but essentially each has been developed in response to the need for the widespread use and wear of face coverings to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus amongst the general population – a requirement that did not exist prior to 2020. 

The Dutch government is the latest to release its own certification based on the European Committee for Standardization (CEN)’s CWA 17553:2020 guidelines developed in June 2020 which outlines minimum requirements, methods of testing and use for community face coverings. NEN factors in learnings and experience from living with COVID for the best part of a year to take the process further, ensuring face coverings with the NEN certification offer greater protection and efficiency when it comes to keeping the spread of the virus in check. Its requirements include rigorous testing for filtration efficiency, breathing resistance, fit, ease of use and sustainability – all of which ISKO Vital+ Premium face coverings exceed.

NEN is unique in the attention it pays to the comfort and fit of a face covering. The argument is that if face covers aren’t comfortable, people will not wear them properly, will constantly touch and reposition them on their face, or, in some cases, remove them altogether. All of these reactions limit the effectiveness of the face covering in stopping the spread of the virus. By assessing the breathing resistance as part of the certification process, NEN also helps to further differentiate reusable community face coverings from disposable medical masks and respirators, which are not designed for long term use and do not take comfort into consideration. 

So why does all of this matter?

On a very basic level, certifications and standards help consumers to understand what they are buying. In essence, standards help to separate the wheat from the chaff. Certified face coverings and the companies that manufacture them go through rigorous testing to meet – or exceed –  certain requirements to ensure they provide adequate protection, breathability and comfort. Without this guidance, consumers may unwittingly be wearing ineffective face coverings that provide little or no protection in stopping the spread of the virus. 

Where standards are lacking or unclear, we can also see confusion come in, which can breed uncertainty and fear. This environment can easily give way to panic, which may result in decisions being made without all the facts or evidence in place and miscommunications running riot. Governments in countries like Germany are in danger of falling into this trap – as a knee jerk reaction to the fast-spreading virus, the government neglected to consult with experts and has fallen back on what they know, mandating that only masks with the European medical standard designed for surgical masks, EN14683, certification are permitted. EN14683 predates COVID-19 and was developed with single use medical face masks in mind - to protect patients during surgery, rather than for reusable face coverings designed for long term,  day-to-day wear by the public.

While ISKO Vital+’s reusable face coverings do adhere to the EN14683 standard, the public perception is that only disposable masks meet this requirement. This means, for example, that employees monitoring doors at shops more often than not mistake any fabric mask as non-compliant and do not allow people to enter. People in Germany are therefore rushing to buy disposable medical masks, which will not only take its toll on the environment, but may again lead to a shortage of PPE for healthcare workers due to civilians wearing masks designed for medical use. 

What is ISKO Vital+ doing to help 

In addition to complying with standards ranging from NEN, AFNOR, CEN and EN14683, ISKO understands that education is essential. We are working to help our customers and consumers navigate the ‘alphabet soup’ of standards and certifications so they know what to look for when purchasing a face covering. We also have plans to start printing the names and numbers of the key standards each face covering complies with on the masks themselves to help avoid confusion like the supermarket scenario above. 

In addition to education and clarifying confusion, ISKO is also putting our expertise and learnings to good use and taking part in the standardisation process itself. We have ISKO team members sitting on the CEN standardisation committee in Europe, as well as ASTM International, which is currently developing standards for ‘barrier’ face coverings sold in the United States.

For a complete list and to learn more about the certifications ISKO Vital+ face coverings comply with, please visit: https://www.iskomedical.com/isko-certifications/