When Should You Use Respiratory Protective Equipment?


09 Jul 2018


Croner’s Health & Safety Consultants visit a wide range of businesses every week, and these can be as diverse as country estates to kitchen door manufacturers. Senior Consultant Paul Logan discuses a common query across these businesses.

Recently a number of employers have contacted us asking if they have to provide face fit tests for employees being provided with disposable respiratory protective equipment by HSE and in some cases insurers. These employers have activities that may result in harmful substances contaminating the air in the form of dust, mist, vapour, gas or fume, generated when cutting materials such as stone, using volatile solvents, handling dusty powder, or possibly welding certain materials.

How do I know if respiratory protective equipment is needed?

Start with the assumption that the RPE is required based on a COSHH Risk Assessment. The hazard and risk information gathered in this risk assessment is required to select the correct RPE. This can include filtering respirators, tight fitting face pieces (masks) or loose fitting face pieces such as hoods or visors. You are required to provide RPE that is adequate and suitable to ensure the wearer is protected. This is not a new requirement.

Types of RPE

There are many different types of RPE designed to protect the wearer from a variety of hazards, suit the work situation, and match the specific requirements of the wearer. RPE is also available in different sizes to allow for facial differences of workers, taking into account gender, ethnicity, build etc. So essentially there isn’t a one fit fits all solution. This is why in order to determine what is adequate and suitable a Face Fit must be carried out by someone who is competent. If the RPE does not fit, it will not protect the wearer. Face Fit testing is a method of checking that a tight-fitting facepiece matches the wearer’s facial features and seals adequately to their face. It will also help to identify unsuitable facepieces that should not be used. Remember that tight-fitting RPE will only provide effective protection if the wearer is clean shaven, so they should also be clean shaven when fit tested.

What about beards, stubble etc

Many masks rely on a good seal against the face so that, when you breathe air in, it is drawn into the filter material where the air is cleaned. If there are any gaps around the edges of the mask, ‘dirty’ air will pass through these gaps and into your lungs. It is therefore very important that you put your mask on correctly and check for a good fit every time. Facial hair – stubble and beards – make it impossible to get a good seal of the mask to the face. If you are clean-shaven when wearing tight-fitting masks (ie those which rely on a good seal to the face), this will help prevent leakage of contaminated air around the edges of the mask and into your lungs. You will therefore be breathing in clean air, which will help you stay healthy.

What if an employee stops shaving or grows a beard?

If there are good reasons for having a beard (e.g. for medical or religious reasons), alternative forms of RPE, that do not rely on a tight fit to the face, such as loose fitting face pieces such as hoods or visors should be considered.

Speak to an Expert

For further information regarding RPE or any other Health & Safety issue, please contact our team of experts on 0808 145 3382

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