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Standards for community face coverings

The success story of the Research Centre for Advanced Photonics and Process Analysis 

Since the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic, researchers at the Centre for Advanced Photonics & Process Analysis (CAPPA) have been exploring ways in which they can provide their services and expertise to help the fight against the virus.  Dr Steven Darby has a PhD in atmospheric chemistry and worked for several years in viral diagnostics. Currently he works in the Research Centre for Advanced Photonics and Process Analysis (CAPPA) at Munster Technological University, where he conducts research for industry.

Steven joined the work in standardisation in 2020 when there was an urgent call to research centres from the National Standard Authority of Ireland (NSAI) to provide input on setting performance requirements in the NSAI SWiFT 19 on Face Coverings given the Covid19 pandemic.

SFI Research Image of the Year 2020

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Through his expertise in atmospheric science, Steven gave technical advice throughout drafting NSAI Swift19 and CWA 17553. He is presently the Chair of NSAI Technical Committee 67 on Face coverings that contributes to CEN/TC248/WG38 “Community face coverings”. He was a member of a team of researchers from MTU, CAPPA and Blackrock Castle Observatory, funded by Science Foundation Ireland under their Covid-19 Rapid Response programme, who were awarded the SFI Research Image of the Year 2020.

He was also nominated for the CEN-CENELEC Standards+Innovation Award and won the NSAI Innovation award 2021.

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The results of such early stage research are useful to producers, regulators and other stakeholders. However, they can be challenging to incorporate into a standard.  Primarily it has led to an emphasis on fit and leakage testing in the CEN Technical Specification currently under revision, and after further research there will be requirements laid down in future standard revisions.

A new category of product

Community Face Coverings are such a new category of product that there is inevitably a wide range of performance on the market. Research at the early stages of standards development is necessary to establish the performance level that consumers require.

“We had to write a standard for a product that hadn’t been invented yet ”

Steven Darby

Researcher at Centre for Advanced Photonics & Process Analysis

Unlike PPE masks intended for trained professionals, Community Face Coverings have to be used every day by nearly every member of society. The standard must be designed to allow for innovation that would enable usage by people of all face shapes and sizes, and people with mobility and hearing impairments. We also have to take account of reusability to reduce the environmental impact.

We have to imagine the different forms the product might have, the different failure modes and design the specification so that the eventual consumer could be assured the product would meet the requirements of safety and efficacy, all while encouraging innovation in new product designs.

The product that does everything perfectly does not exist, yet the standard must be unambiguous yet flexible enough to allow for future changes and developments as the results of the research come in. This requires rapid iteration between manufacturers, regulatory bodies, public health experts and scientists.

Benefits of a Technical Specification for everyone

The CEN Technical Specification allows European producers to gain a competitive advantage if they can exceed the minimum level of performance.


This will encourage producers to enter the market with novel features that could exceed these requirements and ensure the protection of European citizens.

“Having a CEN/TS on Community Face Coverings agreed by Member States improves the confidence that they will work, and people will wear them, allowing a reopening of sectors of the economy and society that are dependent on mask usage.”

Steven Darby

Researcher at Centre for Advanced Photonics & Process Analysis

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Further readings

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