02.11.2020 // Press releases

Swiss Association for Standardization advocates uniform requirements for fabric masks

Press release of 2 November 2020

Nearly everyone is donning them lately: colourful masks made of fabric. Such masks, frequently consisting of woven material and often referred to as «community masks», can be purchased in nearly every shop. But do community masks really protect against transmission of the coronavirus? Both manufacturers and consumers are unsure about the answer to this question. Currently, «community mask» is not a protected or legally defined term, meaning that anyone is allowed to sell these products and refer to them as «community masks», no matter how well the mask protects the wearer and the environment from droplets or aerosols. What is missing here is a uniform standard.

There is currently no standard for community masks in Switzerland. However, such a standard is of crucial importance, as it could define the requirements that community masks must meet, along with the associated testing procedures. As soon as uniform testing procedures are available, it will be possible to compare the various masks with each other with regard to parameters such as filter efficiency. The comparative value would provide consumers with a point of reference when purchasing masks and give them the ability to assess which community masks are of high quality and which are not.

What is the current situation?
On the national level, initial recommendations on minimum requirements for community masks were published in a recommendation paper of the Swiss National COVID-19 Science Task Force. The Swiss Association for Standardization (SNV) also launched an initiative to prepare a national normative document as soon as possible. In a round-table meeting on 24 September 2020, various stakeholders from industry and research institutes engaged in an open discussion in which they exchanged views on community masks for the first time. On 22 October 2020, the first meeting of stakeholders who wish to actively participate in the preparation of a national normative document followed.

One thing is clear to all involved: a solution is quickly needed to clarify the situation for manufacturers, testing institutes and consumers. Since the development of a standard is very time-consuming, the SNV decided to draft a Swiss rule together with the interested organizations and companies. The advantage of a Swiss rule is that it is associated with fewer procedural regulations than a Swiss standard. This is due to the fact that public consultation is optional and it is only necessary for a consensus to be formed in the working group, shaving at least three months’ time off the process.

On 29 October 2020, an agreement was reached on the range of application of the normative document. This application range defines the scope of the Swiss rule. The working group agreed that the Swiss rule is to define requirements for design, performance, testing methods and reusability of community masks.

Influence on the European Committee
The European Committee for Standardization (Comité Européen de Normalisation – CEN) has defined initial minimum requirements and testing methods for community masks in a CEN Workshop Agreement. A corresponding Technical Specification (TS) is being prepared on the European level. Yet why are Swiss producers and consumers not just waiting for the standard to be finalized on the European level? For Switzerland, drafting a separate normative document for community masks is associated with the advantage that fewer stakeholders are involved, that publication can take place more quickly compared to the European procedure, and that the requirements for the document can be tailored specifically to Switzerland’s needs. Provided that the Swiss rule (SNR) is finalized early enough, it can be taken into account in the preparation of the European TS.

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