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Implementing an effective RPE program – The basics...

Implementing Respiratory Protective Equipment) RPE may not as simple as one may initially think; if not done correctly and thoroughly, it will fall flat on its face leaving workers unprotected.

Here we hope to provide a basic guide, talking employers through a few steps towards getting RPE right…

Firstly, identify the airborne hazards(s).

What is the hazard, what is its physical from, how much of the substance is present (consider air monitoring), what is the OEL, refer to MSDSs and or industry, HSE and manufacturer guidance for best practice advice...

Consider how exposure could be controlled before reaching for the RPE!

With this information, you can now consider RPE Selection.

What types of RPE and filtration are available, look at your options. It may be a simple FFP, a half mask, full face, full face powered, PAPR / lose fitting, Airline fed or even SCBA. Ensure that the device has the potential to offer protection from the substance(s) present.

Here we now need to give thought to wear times, compatibility with other PPE or incorporating it into the RPE solution, compatibility with corrective eyewear, the physical nature of the works, the fitness (lung function) of the wearer, comfort, communication, facial hair status… we really need to involve the workforce here!

Half face RPE is generally the most widely used type of device but do consider if disposable or reusable RPE would be best suited...

Not forgetting that PAPR or full face RPE may also be a very good option

Worker involvement.

You can’t just force a mask onto a worker and expect them to wear it!

When involving the workforce, do this right at the beginning. Allow them to trial several devices (ensuring they are put at no risk if live trials), listen to their opinions and make changes and improvements where possible. It is likely that more than one type of device or variations of a device will be required for different individuals or even different activities.

Seeking guidance from RPE suppliers and manufacturers will pay dividends here.

User training.

The significance of user training simply cannot be underestimated!

The wearer needs to receive and understand detailed information for the RPE to be effective; cover topics such as…

· How the device functions.

· Donning, doffing and pre use fit checks is applicable.

· How the device is to be cleaned and stored.

· Pre use and formal monthly inspections for reusable RPE.

· Get practical here, get them wearing the device, stripping it down, building it back up, cover all component parts and encourage participation; toolbox talks should be considered going forward to reinforce good practices.

· Explain the limitations of the device and the significance of correct AND consistent use.

Face fit testing.

All tight fitting RPE MUST be face fit tested as part of the mask selection process, face fit testing should also repeated at certain intervals to ensure that the device remains effective going forward.

There are two common methods…

· Qualitative – suitable for half face RPE

· Quantitative (APC) – suitable for full or half face RPE

Each method has its own pros and cons that are detailed in a previous article below.

Ensuring the RPE programme remains effective going forward.

Again, continue to speak to the workforce, they are the ones wearing it! Do they encounter any issues, is it being used correctly, are they still clean shaven, does the device create an additional issues or hazards. Constantly review and communicate.

Implement a formal documented inspection regime for any reusable RPE (info and inspection records are available to download here A guide to RPE inspection & maintenance... (

Ensure that replacement parts and filters are readily available (a good way to gauge RPE usage).

Try and gradually reduce the reliance on RPE by developing other exposure controls.

Review your RPE programme when circumstances / processes / substances / individuals change, there may also be seasonal variations to consideration.

A successfully RPE program will need to be embraced by both management and the individuals wearing the devices.

As suggested, this is a basic introduction to RPE. Detailed guidance can be found within the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance document HSG 53

If it's not right for the hazard, if its not right for the wearer, if it's not understood, if it's not cleaned, stored or maintained correctly then RPE simply will not protect!

Or as ever, feel free to get in touch for free, common sense, competent advice.


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