Types of respiratory protective equipment

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To prevent exposure to harmful dust, fibres, fumes and gases, employers must provide you with the correct type of respiratory (breathing) protective equipment (RPE).

The choice of RPE will depend upon the nature of the hazard from which the protection is needed. In many cases RPE will only protect against one type of hazard (for example, dust), although combined protection RPE is also available. Colour coding is used to show what the equipment’s filter will protect against. The choice of RPE must be made by an authorised, competent person. The wrong equipment or filter will offer no protection.

As with all PPE you should be told why it is necessary, how and when to wear it, how to keep it clean and store it, and what to do if you have any doubts about its effectiveness or if it gets lost or damaged.

If you are issued with RPE, your employer should arrange for you to be face-fit tested, to ensure the RPE fits your face properly and functions correctly.
  • Where dust cannot be avoided you must wear suitable RPE (masks).
  • Any mask you wear should have a British Standard (BS EN) number and/or CE mark printed on it.
  • Disposable masks should have at least two adjustable straps and may have a flexible nose band to shape around the bridge of your nose.
  • There should be a good seal between the facepiece and your skin. Facial hair and other items of PPE (such as safety glasses) can interfere with the fit.
Cheap, disposable (nuisance) dust masks from DIY stores do not meet PPE standards. They offer little or no protection and should not be used.

Common types of RPE include disposable filter masks, half and full mask respirators with replacement (disposable) filter cartridges.

RPE should have a filter rating FFP3, FFP2 or FFP1. The filters can protect against different hazards (such as dusts or vapours) and are colour coded to show what the filter is suitable for.

  • FFP3 will offer the maximum protection. These reduce the dust you breathe in by a factor of 20.
  • FFP2 are good for medium risk. These reduce the amount of dust you breathe in by a factor of 10.
  • FFP1 are suitable for light duty work (such as sweeping up). These reduce the amount of dust you breathe in by a factor of four.
FFP3 gives a protection factor of 20, meaning that for every 20 dust particles outside of the mask it is predicted that only one would pass through the filter material.

FFP3 masks are the most common type used in the construction industry. (FFP1 or FFP2 masks are unlikely to give enough protection against hazardous dusts.) The seal should be tight against your face. Facial hair can reduce the effectiveness of the RPE. You should be clean shaven at the start of each shift to make sure the RPE seals properly against your skin.

The risk assessment or control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH) assessment should say what type of filter is needed.

If in any doubt – ask. You have the right not to breathe in harmful dusts and fumes.Protect yourself today – breathe easily tomorrow.