Sustaining life in hazardous environments...
Sustaining life in hazardous environments...

Respiratory Protective Equipment – What Are The Considerations?

28th November 2016
Respiratory Protective Equipment – What Are The Considerations?

The RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment) for any job/task must be ‘suitable’ for the purpose it is used. This means that the equipment should provide effective protection to the wearer for the defined operation and in the specific environment. The RPE must be CE marked or HSE approved*.

Firstly, there are two forms of RPE - Positive and Negative Pressure. Negative pressure is when the air inside the face piece is lower than the surrounding atmosphere, meaning that if there are any leaks in the seal or filtration, contaminants would be potentially sucked in. Positive pressure is the opposite - air pressure inside the mask is greater than outside and any air movement will be outward, therefore, positive pressure RPE gives a higher protection factor. 

How do I know when to use a Disposable, ½ or Full Face Mask?

From the job or range of job tasks that a user is carrying out, you need to identify what hazardous substance/s are present, their concentration and exposure limits, which can be found in the HSE’s EH40 document. For more information on RPE selection please see our technical document on selecting RPE.

As a guide, we have listed what the different types of masks are used for;

  • Disposable ½ Mask – Only protect against particulate, fume and oil or water based mists. FFP3 would give APF 20 for particlesDisposable face mask
  • Reusable ½ Face Mask – Need to have filters attached to give protection, can be used against gases and vapours as well as particles with a combination filter. P1 - APF 4, P2 - APF 10, P3 - APF 20  for particles. Factor reduced by half for carbon filters.
  • Full Face Mask – Again, need filtration to give protection, used if eye protection is also needed and/ or greater protection factor required than a ½ mask provides. Gas Vapour Filters - APF 20 and P3 – APF 40
  • Powered Blower Unit and Loose Fitting Headtop – Same protection factor as a full face mask, used sometimes for comfort and/or when the user has Reusable half face maskfacial hair. Same protection factor as full face mask when appropriate gas or vapour filter is fitted. 
  • Positive Pressure Breathing Apparatus Full Face Mask – Used if protection factor needs to be higher than a full face negative pressure mask or when a toxic, flammable or oxygen depletion/ enrichment is present. APF 2000 when used with SCBA or Airline BA.

If the hazard is unsafe levels of a toxic or flammable gas and/or oxygen depletion/ enrichment, which can’t be suitably mitigated with another control measure e.g. ventilation, then full positive pressure breathing apparatus should be worn. 

Remember, any form of close fitting RPE must be face fit tested on, more details on this can be found on The Overview of Face Fit Testing.

Powered RPEWhat type of RPE can I use in a Confined Space?

Essentially, any type of RPE can be used in a confined space, as long as it is ‘suitable for the purpose it is used for’. Careful considerations should be made when selecting what specific make/ model is used to ensure that it doesn’t have a detrimental effect, e.g. hindering escape in an emergency or causing increased heat or stress whilst working.

Any equipment used in a confined space must be intrinsically safe.

Vision 3How often does my RPE need to be checked?

As per the COSHH 2002 regulations, all forms of RPE are subject to a monthly inspection by a competent person, which should be documented, a pre and post-use inspection and an annual service as per manufacturers requirements.

We will write more about this in our next blog post on 'Planned Maintenance Programmes'.


How do I store my RPE?

Facilities should be provided for safe and secure storage of RPE and Breathing Apparatus.


*HSE approval of RPE ceased on 30 June 1995 but you can continue to use HSE-approved equipment made before 1 July 1995 as long as it is suitable and maintained to perform correctly.


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