Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is a form of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). There are two main types, the first is a Respirator (Filtering Device) used to prevent the wearer from inhaling any harmful/hazardous substances contaminating the air. These hazardous agents may enter your lungs and throat without RPE or other controls.
Inhalable dusts (up to 100 microns) can affect your nose, mouth, throat and other areas of the upper respiratory tract and lungs, however the smallest particles of dust, ‘respirable dust’ can make their way to the lower parts of the lungs which can cause more damage, as it is difficult to remove by coughing, these particles are no bigger than 10 microns.
Another of RPE is Breathing Apparatus (BA) which can supply you with quality breathing air from an independent source. All RPE has to comply with the range of RPE classifications defined by the European standard EN149.
RPE Fit Testing
RPE can become uncomfortable if not fitted correctly or it is work for long periods, RPE may also interfere with other items of PPE for example safety glasses. It’s essential that you select items which are compatible, this may vary depending on the shape of the user.
Facial hair can make it impossible to get a good seal around your face. Therefore, it is advisable that you are clean shaven if you wear and item of RPE that requires a seal around the face to be effective. This isn’t always possible though, in which cases positive air fed respirators can be provided which cover the head with a hood and supply a constant stream of clean air to the hood generating positive pressure (preventing contaminants to get in).
There are many different masks available and it is vital that you find one that fits you correctly as a small gap can mean that the hazardous substances that you are trying to avoid can still get in.
How often should I replace my RPE?
Disposable dust masks should be replaced after each or they may become ineffective, However, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding disposal / use periods. Reusable masks can be used over and over again, but these too have a limited use period before the filter becomes full, some masks have exchangeable filters like the Moldex 7002. Even if you do not notice any change in your mask's effectiveness it is recommended that you dispose of a filter after 30 days or 40 hours usage depending on which comes around first (always follow manufacturers instructions). Remember that different hazards require different filters, therefore you must research which filter is suitable for the situation and conditions that you will be in before you proceed with the work or your health could be at risk.
If you’re unsure, get in touch and we can advise you.
When should I use RPE and which type?
Your employer is responsible for assessing health and safety and if masks have been issued for the job in hand it is vital that you wear one.
It is important that you understand airborne hazards, a failure to wear respiratory protective equipment when it is needed can result in illness, life changing health effects or even death. Did you know that 12,000 people die each year due past work exposures (HSE statistics 2017/18). The effects are not obvious immediately so there are not always taken seriously.
Put in the simplest term FFP means Filtering Face Piece and comes in 3 grades FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3. FFP3 offering the best protection against the finest of dusts and FFP1 offering protection against larger particles only.
FFP1 filters catch at least 80% of the particles which measure up to 0.6 Microns. These filters should only be used in areas where the Occupational Exposure Levels are less than a fourfold value (4 times the Workplace Exposure Limit WEL listed in the free to download EH40 HSE document, usually around 4-10 mg.m³ for dusts, but check the EH40 document to check your specific WEL). FFP1 filters should not be used for poisonous or fibrogenic dusts types. Leakages may occur with these masks so should only be used around low risk dusts.
Suitable for tasks such as hand sanding, drilling and cutting, sweeping etc.
FFP2 respirator masks offer better protection than FFP1 masks, they can be used around smoke, aerosols and fibrogenic particles. FFP2 masks can be used in conditions where the WEL/OEL is exceeded no more than 10 fold. FFP2 respirator masks can be used in metal industries and mining industries where aerosols, smoke and fog/mists from cutting fluids may be present.
FFP3 respirator masks offer the best protection against fine dusts, smoke and aerosols. FFP3 masks can also be used to protect against viruses, bacteria and fungal spores, and are effective in areas where the WEL/OEL is exceeded no more than a threefold value.
FFP3 respirators filter 99% of particles measuring up to 0.6 microns.
See our full range of RPE here