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Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) basics & FAQ’s

Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is necessary in any workplace

environment with contaminants in the air that might be harmful to health. These contaminates commonly include (but are not limited to):

  • Dust
  • Chemicals in gaseous form

In addition, RPE is required when a worker is conducting tasks in an environment with low oxygen levels. Common scenarios in which RPE might be needed include stonecutting, woodwork, handling any kind of powder, working in a confined tank or chamber that has a limited oxygen supply, and dealing with volatile liquids or chemical sprays. It is crucial to provide RPE whenever it is required in your workplace. Moreover, it is essential for the RPE to be appropriate for the task (i.e. the types and levels of contaminants) and suitable for the wearer's individual needs. 

Frequently asked questions regarding RPE

When should I provide RPE?

RPE should be provided whenever levels of contaminants in the air become dangerous for employees' health. This is a legal requirement. 

I have provided RPE, is that all I need to do?

No: alongside RPE you will also need to take other measures to reduce contamination levels in the air such as providing adequate ventilation for confined spaces. You should not rely solely on RPE to protect your employees. It is also a requirement that your employees are Face Fitted to the specific mask they have been provided with.   

My company doesn't use volatile liquids all the time, only on rare occasions. Is RPE really needed?

Yes, RPE will be needed even if you only deal with contaminants on a temporary basis (for instance, wiping up occasional spills from usually sealed barrels of chemicals). 

How does RPE fit in with other protections against airborne contaminants?

RPE should be thought of as the 'last line of protection' against airborne contaminants. That means that you should take as many precautions as possible (such as providing high quality ventilation) before considering RPE.

How do I know my RPE is right for the job?

As an absolute minimum, your RPE should carry a CE quality mark. Additionally, as an employer your job is to check that it is suitable for the wearer's needs and appropriate for the activity.

The importance of having RPE individually fitted to the wearer's face

Just because RPE is worn, it does not mean it fits the wearers face. Anyone can wear RPE but they may not have a good seal. If there is not a good seal between the wearers face and the RPE, it will leak. The RPE will therefore not be doing its job and it will not protect the wearer. Wearers must be Face Fit tested against the RPE they are using. We provide a high-quality face fitting service for half face and disposable RPE. We can undertake Qualitative face fit tests which identifies if a good seal is established. We are also able to demonstrate the correct way to put the mask on if required.

Download a detailed guide to RPE

The HSE offer a free guide to selecting, fitting, using and maintaining RPE. Download it here.


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