Choosing the Right PPE: Face Masks Or Face Shields?

Learn about the pros and cons of face masks and face shields.
Choosing the Right PPE: Face Masks Or Face Shields?
July 16, 2020

Health Update:
There have been a few cases throughout the world where coronavirus outbreaks have been linked to individuals wearing only face shields. In light of these findings, the Australian Institute of Food Safety does not recommend the use of wearing only face shields to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If a face shield must be worn, it is recommended that it is used in combination with a face mask. Please be sure to follow the recommendations and restrictions put in place by your local health authority in regards to face coverings. 

Face masks are quickly becoming a mandatory requirement for indoor public places throughout Australia. Food businesses must protect their staff by ensuring that proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is provided. Questions are arising about whether face shields are just as effective as face masks when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Unless specified by governmental bodies, face shields are not an officially recommended alternative to face masks. Here is a breakdown of how face masks and face shields work in comparison to each other:

Curbing COVID-19

Both face masks and face shields work to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but there are significant differences. Face masks fit snugly to the face in order to stop respiratory droplets from the wearer’s mouth, whereas face shields do not. There are large gaps around the sides of the face shield which allows for more airflow and the possibility of droplets being spread more easily. However, face shields do protect the eyes which is another entry point for droplets which face masks do not.

Currently, there is insufficient data about the effectiveness of face shields in preventing the spread of respiratory droplets when not used in conjunction with a mask. Because of this, face shields are recommended to be worn along with a face mask. For the time being, face masks are being recommended as the type of face covering that should be used in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Communicating clearly

Face masks pose a problem when it comes to clear communication. Face masks make the wearer anonymous and harder to understand due to the mouth and nose being covered. The human brain is wired to read a person’s facial expressions in order to understand their intentions and emotions. With the mouth being covered under a face mask, facial expressions are difficult to read. In contrast, face shields provide protection with a clear, plastic screen, which makes the wearer’s entire face visible. This allows for better communication and connectivity between people.

Reusability and costliness

Face shields are reusable which means that only one will be needed per staff member. While face shields can be more costly to purchase for each staff member, they do not have to be replaced very often. Disposable face masks require large quantities to be purchased so that they can be replaced when contaminated. The plus side to disposable face masks is that they cost less when purchased in bulk.

Cloth face masks are another alternative, however they can be more expensive than disposable masks. Also, more than one is required per staff member as they need sufficient time to be washed and dried properly. The plus side is that they are reusable like face shields.

Touching the PPE

Observations indicate that individuals wearing face masks are more likely to touch their masks. This can be due to discomfort or the need to adjust the mask. There are also incidents where people wearing face masks lower the masks when speaking to others in order to be heard or understood properly. These actions undo the benefit of wearing the face mask and can potentially lead to COVID-19 exposure.

Face shields allow for the wearer’s mouth to be visible which makes it easier for others to understand them. This means that the wearer does not need to move the PPE to be understood. Also, face shields do not sit directly on the face so individuals may find them more comfortable which leads to less touching and adjusting.

Cleaning protocols

Proper cleaning protocols are essential for face coverings that are reusable, such as face shields and cloth face masks. Face shields are easily cleaned, sanitised and take very little time to dry. This means that they can be reused within a short period of time after being cleaned. Reusable face masks must be cleaned after every use in a washing machine at 60°C or above and dried in a dryer or other hygienic way. This means cleaning them must be done daily and takes time to do properly. In any case, time must be allocated by the food business to conduct the cleaning of face shields and reusable face masks.

Make an informed choice

It is essential that food businesses understand the pros and cons of face masks and face shields before making any purchases. It is also essential that food businesses know the regulations that apply to them in their state or territory since different areas will permit different types of face coverings.

Looking for more information about the pros and cons of face masks versus face shields? Download the AIFS Fact Sheet Face Masks Vs. Face Shields from our Resource Library.