The law requires employers to prevent or control the exposure of employees and others (e.g. subcontractors) to hazardous substances at work.
Before using RPE, exposure should be controlled by other measures (such as local exhaust ventilation), which are reasonably practicable. In other words, RPE should only be used as a last choice of protection when working with hazardous substances such as gases, solvents, powered chemicals, mists and sprays or entering a confined space.
You could need RPE:
There are many reasons:
So, only use or provide RPE as a last line of choice for respiratory protection. Consider other control measures before deciding upon RPE.
Use other measures for controlling exposure. Priorities for control options are:
No, RPE used at work must be “CE” marked to confirm that they have been designed and tested to meet at least the minimum requirements laid out in law. CE marking on RPE does not make it automatically suitable for a task. Employers are legally responsible for selecting the right RPE for the task, substance, work environment and the wearer.
Assess the risks presented by exposure to hazardous substances. Then identify the steps needed to adequately control the risks; put them into operation and ensure they remain effective. RPE may be one of the control measures.
If you decide to provide RPE as one of the control measures, the things you need to do are:
For RPE to remain effective during use it should be integrated into operational procedures. You must ensure that control measures, including RPE, are properly used and not made ineffective by incorrect work practices or incorrect use. You should ensure that employees use the control measures, including RPE, the way they are intended to be used and as trained and instructed by you. It is often best to give a choice of several correctly specified types of RPE to wearers so they can choose the one they like.
As part of your risk assessment, justify the reasons behind your decision to use RPE.
An RPE programme encapsulates all the elements of RPE use you need to ensure that your RPE is effective in protecting the wearers.
To have an effective RPE programme you need to:
Any shortcomings in one of the steps in the programme could result in wearers not receiving adequate protection.
Where RPE is used, it must be able to provide adequate protection for individual wearers.RPE can’t protect the wearer if it leaks. A major cause of leaks is poor fit – tight-fitting facepieces need to fit the wearer’s face to be effective.
As people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes it is unlikely that one particular type or size of RPE facepiece will fit everyone. Fit testing will help ensure that the equipment selected is suitable for the wearer.
RPE fit testing should be conducted by a competent person - you should take steps to ensure that any person you engage as a fit tester is appropriately trained, qualified and experienced, and is provided with appropriate information to undertake each particular task. The British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) has introduced a scheme for fit testers, which may provide evidence to help you decide whether a fit tester is competent.
An effective system of maintenance for RPE is essential to make sure the equipment continues to provide the degree of protection for which it is designed. Therefore, the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule (including recommended replacement periods and shelf lives) should always be followed.
Maintenance may include cleaning, examination, replacement, repair and testing. The wearer may be able carry out simple maintenance (e.g. cleaning), but more intricate repairs should be carried out by a competent person.
RPE can protect your health and even save your life. Many workers have died because they have entered confined spaces without RPE, used incorrect RPE and/or worn RPE incorrectly.
Many of the gases, vapours and dusts that cause serious damage to lungs and other parts of the body can be invisible to the naked eye. RPE can help to protect you from these hazardous substances that can cause serious diseases.
Employees have a legal duty to cooperate with their employers and use control measures (justified by risk assessment) provided in accordance with the instruction, information and training provided.
In accordance with the manufacturer’s information and instructions, and as instructed by your employer. You will be trained by your employer to make this easy for you.
Your responsibilities will include:
People come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. It is unlikely that one particular type, or size of RPE facepiece, will fit everyone. For this reason, manufacturers offer different size and shape facepieces such as masks, visors and hoods.
The performance of tight-fitting facepieces depends on achieving a good contact between the wearer’s skin and the face seal of the facepiece. A poor fit will significantly reduce the protection the RPE can provide you. Any reduction in protection can put your life in danger or may lead to immediate or long-term ill health.
It is useful to check that you can put on your RPE correctly. Correct fitting of the facepiece at all times is vital to prevent exposure.
RPE should be stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This is extremely important to protect your health. RPE left lying around in dirty areas increases the risk of you being exposed due to contamination on the inside of the facepiece, and parts deteriorating from exposure to dirt, solvents, vapours, oil, UV light and sunlight.