Masks in the workplace in Austria
Do you also often wonder whether you will have to wear a mask at work now? Well, we have done our research and come to the conclusion set out in detail below. But before we reveal the answer, the question remains as to why we would need to wear masks at work in the first place.
The main problem consists of the aerosols emitted by those present in every open-plan office, meeting room, or even small office occupied by just one or two people. Aerosols are mixtures of solid or liquid particles (“suspended particles”) in a gas or mixture of gases (e.g., the air). The aerosol particles range in size from around 1 nanometer (nm) to several hundred micrometers (µm). While larger particles fall to the ground quickly, smaller particles remain in the air for longer. These aerosols can also contain bacteria and viruses and therefore pose a risk of infection. The smaller particles in an aerosol can remain in the air in a state of suspension for several hours. As a result, they can present a risk of infection over longer distances (several meters) and for prolonged periods (up to days at a time!).
How can the risk of infection from aerosol particles be reduced?
Aerosol particles can travel several meters when people sneeze or cough. Proper sneeze etiquette (sneezing into your elbow or a tissue) is necessary to prevent this. Wearing a face mask significantly reduces the number of aerosol particles that are released, although it is more difficult to retain smaller particles than larger ones. In any case, distancing is sensible; it makes it difficult to transmit larger aerosol particles because these fall to the ground after traveling short distances. The same goes for Plexiglas panes, as these cannot stop any small particles that are released in particular. Instead, these are distributed throughout the room by means of airflow and diffusion.
Despite additional measures such as regular ventilation, it is inevitable that the presence of several people in a room will result in an increased risk of infection. Even air filter units cannot be of any help here, as these draw in the air in the room extremely slowly and filter or sanitize it only once inside the device. The small aerosol particles that people emit can therefore embark on a “journey” that lasts several hours. Since they fly past other people on this “journey”, there is a risk that these individuals will inhale the germ-laden aerosol particles.
Only hydroxyl radicals are able to neutralize the aerosol particles and the viruses and bacteria that they carry directly in the air. These hydroxyl radicals, also known as OH radicals, are produced in nature through a physical process that uses water vapor and UV radiation from the sun. OH radicals play an important role in summer smog and the removal of trace gases, earning the nickname of the “detergent of the atmosphere”.
An Austro-German team has managed to develop this technology using a combination of cold atmospheric plasma and voltage even in particularly high-risk indoor areas, without having to resort to chemical substances. The well-known STEREX plasma technology thereby ensures OH radical saturation in a defined room size, in which it is evenly distributed. Aerosol particles that are constantly being emitted by people are neutralized as soon as they leave the mouth or nose. This makes the transmission of harmful germs extremely unlikely when a minimum separation distance is maintained.
This STEREX plasma technology is 100 times more effective than the filter performance of a mask, even when this is worn correctly (which is unfortunately not always the case). Since the STEREX plasma technology can be considered a protection measure that significantly reduces the risk of infection and – particularly in comparison with a normal face mask or Plexiglas pane – is more effective against viruses and bacteria, it can be assumed, as per the legal explanation, that it meets the requirements of the latest version (last updated April 22, 2021) of the Republic of Austria’s COVID-19 Schutzmaßnahmenverordnung [COVID-19 Protection Measures Ordinance], Paragraph 6, Section 2.