A guide to Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) inspection...
Close fitting RPE cannot protect unless it creates a seal to the face, it must also be worn correctly and it must be maintained to a satisfactory condition; yet inspection and maintenance of reusable RPE is something that’s often overlooked; this requirement almost comes as a surprise to some yet ANY workplace equipment should be inspected, never mind something that is the last line of defence between the wearer and a lung full of something nasty!
As a fit2fit approved face fit tester, I see countless examples of poorly maintained RPE on a regular basis, this image is just one of the horrors that I've encountered. If you think this is a one of, you'd be sorely mistaken; This device will offer the wearer ZERO protection!
HSE guidance document HSG53 specifies the need for a pre use inspection by the user and a formal, documented, monthly inspection undertaken by a competent person; the competent person could be the end user, the employer or an independent third party; for half face RPE, the latter would be overkill IMHO.
In this article, we’ll look at the inspection of half face RPE however, this is just a broad guide and the manufacturer’s instructions should always be adhered to.
Essentially, a monthly inspection should involve stripping the device down to its component parts, inspecting said components, carrying out ant remedial actions before putting the device back into service and formally recording the findings. There is a downloadable RPE inspection record below that you can utilise if needed.
Records of inspection should be retained for a minimum of 5 years as per HSE guidance.
Here, we’ll look at the main component parts and offer guidance as to what you should be looking out for.
Body of mask – Needs to be in a good state of repair; holding its shape, clean, no damage or deformation particularly to the seal area, no tears or punctures (forcibly stretch the elastomer to identify any minor imperfections).
Filter(s) – Often asked, when should they be changed; I can’t be overly specific here but the following are instances would justify a replacement…
Expired, physically damaged, occluded (i.e. an increase in breathing resistance), grossly contaminated, not right for the hazard, as per the manufacturer’s instructions, exceeding its “break through “ time, following exposure to excessive amounts of moisture or no longer offering the required level of protection.
Seals / “O-rings” / interlocks / threaded connectors – Many devices will have a mechanism that secures the filter to the body of the mask, this could be an interlock or threaded connector. Check for signs of damage and ensure that the mechanism remains effective. Some devices will have a foam or rubber O-ring to ensure an airtight seal between the two components, ensure that it is present and correct; regularly removing the filter can distort or compress the seal beyond its useful lifespan.
Diaphragms / Valves – All reusable respirators will have both inhalation and exhalation valves, there may be one or two of each. The inhalation valve opens to allow filtered air into the mask and closes so that exhaled air is not passed back through the filter. The exhalation valve opens to allow warm, damp air to escape from the mask; this closes instantly the moment that air pressure within the device is equalised.
Remove the valves and feel them, they should remain supple and flexible, look for signs of distortion and they should close flush unaided. Hold the valves up to a light source and gently stretch them to identify any minor imperfections.
Very, importantly, especially for the exhalation valve, ensure that it is SPOTLESSLY clean, minor contamination to the exhalation valve will stop it closing, thus allowing unfiltered air to be inhaled by the wearer.
Harness – These can perish over time and lose their elasticity, especially if exposed to direct sunlight, moisture or certain chemical / cleaning products. Its important to stretch every section of harness to ensure there are no “dead spots”. Also inspect any anchor points for signs of wear and also ensure that adjustment points serve their intended purpose; it is generally better to remove the “straps” from the device for inspection.
Storage – Its is a requirement that reusable RPE is provided with a storage container; the purpose of this is to ensure that the device is protected from contaminants, direct sunlight and physical damage. It is therefore important the RPE storage is considered as part of the monthly inspection regime or the mask could easily fall into disrepair.
Overall condition / cleanliness – Cast a thorough eye over the device to ensure that it remains spotlessly clean booth inside and out; also explain the significance of a clean mask to the wearer as any contaminants inside the masks would defeat the point of wearing it. It is a good idea to request that when the mask is presented for inspection, it is thoroughly clean, this will ensure that the wearer gets in the habit of cleaning it on a regular basis, and hopefully every single time the device is removed.
As well as implementing a formal, documented monthly inspection regime, please take the time to explain the significance of a pre use check, post use cleaning and also (obviously) the importance of wearing the device CORRECTLY AND CONSISTANTLY every single time that the mask is worn.
Please feel free to download / print our "Half Face RPE Inspection Record" and put it to good use!
Take care, look after your mask and your mask will look after you!