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FAQs about respiratory protective equipment

Employers

When should I provide RPE?

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:

  • While you are arranging to install other control measures.
  • For clearing up a spill.
  • For maintenance.
  • During temporary failure of a control measure at source, e.g. sudden failure of LEV.
  • For cleaning, e.g. low pressure washing of a dusty shed.
  • For short, one-off procedures.
  • When needed in addition to other control measures for safe working.

Why is RPE the last resort or last line of protection?

There are many reasons:

  • RPE is an intrusive equipment.
  • Not many people would willingly want to wear RPE for any length of time, it can be uncomfortable to wear.
  • RPE can cause disturbance to make-up, jewellery and hair style.
  • RPE may interfere with communication and vision.
  • RPE can interfere with the wearer’s personal freedom such as wanting to have a goatee, beard or to come to work with stubble.
  • RPE can give a sense of false protection, especially when not worn in accordance with the manufacturer’s instruction.
  • RPE can be expensive in the long run when compared to simple, common sense control measures.
  • RPE can only protect the wearer. Control measures at source (at the point where hazardous substances are released into workplace air), such as local exhaust ventilation or enclosures, protect all those working in the area.

So, only use or provide RPE as a last line of choice for respiratory protection. Consider other control measures before deciding upon RPE.

What should I do before deciding to use RPE?

Use other measures for controlling exposure. Priorities for control options are:

  • Eliminate the hazardous substance.
  • Substitute to a safer alternative substance.
  • Use a safer form of the substance.
  • Enclose the task to prevent the substance escaping into the workplace air.
  • Modify the process so less substance is given off.
  • Extract emission (E.g. vapour, gases, dust) from substances.
  • Minimise the number of workers exposed.
  • Minimise the length of time each worker is exposed.

Can I rely on the CE-mark for selecting RPE for my task?

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.

What should I do before providing RPE to employees?

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:

  • Select the RPE that is right for the hazardous substance, the environment in which it is going to be used, the task and the wearer.
  • Inform and train RPE users.
  • Ensure RPE is maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instruction.
  • Supervise RPE wearers to ensure that they are using the RPE in accordance to manufacturer’s instruction and the training provided.
  • Safely dispose of damaged or used RPE and its components, taking note of waste handlers’ heath and safety.

What should I do after providing RPE to employees?

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.

Where can I get detailed information on RPE?

HSE Guidance - HSG53 Respiratory protective equipment at work – A practical guide

What is an RPE programme?

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:

  • Correctly select RPE.
  • Train for correct use.
  • Ensure correct use (including supervision).
  • Check to ensure RPE is working correctly before each use.
  • Maintain RPE in accordance with manufacturer's instructions and law.
  • Keep records as required by law.
  • Correctly store RPE.
  • Correctly dispose of RPE.

Any shortcomings in one of the steps in the programme could result in wearers not receiving adequate protection.

What are the requirements for Facepiece Fit testing?

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.

What should I do to effectively maintain RPE?

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.

Employees

Why should I wear RPE?

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.

Employees should:

  • Use RPE properly whenever it is required to be used.
  • Report any defects in, or damage to, the RPE immediately.
  • Participate in any training or instruction provided on RPE.
  • Inform their employer of any medical conditions they have that might be affected by the use of the RPE provided to them.

How do I wear a mask?

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:

  • Putting the RPE on correctly
  • Fit checking the RPE before entering the hazardous area
  • Correctly taking it off when outside the hazardous area
  • Storing it as instructed
  • Carrying out any simple maintenance as instructed
  • Disposing of used RPE as instructed
  • Where necessary, logging maintenance records or defects noted during use

Why is Facepiece Fit important?

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.

How do I store the mask?

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.

Updated: 2013-10-10