Respiratory protective equipment (RPE)

1.  Introduction

The COSHH Regulations ( specify the need to prevent or control exposure to hazardous substances by using a strict hierarchy of controls. Where adequate control cannot be achieved by elimination, substitution, engineering or procedural controls alone, then the use of correctly chosen and correctly fitted RPE in conjunction with those control measures is permissible. Selection of the correct RPE requires an assessment of the properties of the hazardous substances used, consideration of the task, and consideration of the individual wearing it.

This policy deals only with respirators, which use filters to remove contaminants. The use of breathing apparatus (BA), which has an independent source of breathable air, is a serious undertaking and beyond the scope of the University’s activities: there are stringent health and fitness requirements for users, who must practice regularly with the equipment. Therefore the University does not permit staff or students to use BA except with the specific permission of the Director of the University Safety Office, which will be granted only in the most exceptional circumstances.

In the University, most respirators are worn to protect against workers against harmful dusts, particularly those that may cause allergic responses (e.g. animal and insect allergens, plant pollens and wood dusts).

2.  Summary of legal requirements

The law requires RPE to be:

(a)  used only where exposure has already been controlled (as far as reasonably practicable) by other means – it is not a substitute for other exposure controls;

(b)  adequate [1] and suitable [2] for the task;

(c)  CE marked [3];

(d)  properly selected, used, and maintained;

(e)  correctly stored.

3.  Limitations of respirators

Users should be aware that respirators cannot be the first line of defence against hazardous materials and their use has the following limitations:

(a)  RPE must not be used where there is a risk of oxygen deficiency;

(b)  RPE is not generally suitable where there is a high concentration of chemical contaminants;

(c)  RPE only protects those workers who are wearing it correctly and those who are not wearing it remain unprotected;

(d)  Incorrectly fitted, incorrectly used or incorrectly maintained RPE will not provide adequate protection;

(e)  RPE may be uncomfortable to wear and may interfere with some work tasks.

4.  Permissible uses of respirators

Respirators are suitable:

(a)  for controlling residual risks that remain after other controls have been put in place;

(b)  for controlling short term or infrequent exposure, where other control measures not reasonably practicable;

(c)  as an interim arrangement, while other controls are being put in place;

(d)  for use in emergencies, where other control measures are not reasonably practicable.

5.  Respirator types

Respirators may be divided into two types:

(a)  tight fitting (e.g. filtering facepieces, or half-mask and full-face respirators with filters), which rely for their efficacy on having a good seal with the wearer’s face;

(b)  loose fitting (e.g. powered respirators using hoods, helmets, or visors), which rely on supplying a sufficient flow of clean air from a fan or a fresh air hose to prevent inward leakage of contaminants.

6.  Tight fitting respirators

In the University, most respirators are used to control exposure to harmful dusts or aerosols and disposable filtering facepiece , or half-mask respirators fitted with particulate filters will be used. Occasionally users need half-mask or full-face respirators fitted with appropriate chemical filters and care should be taken to choose the correct filter, taking advice from manufacturers, suppliers, or the Safety Office as appropriate.

Further details of different types of tight fitting respirators and appropriate standards are given in Appendix 1.

All tight fitting respirators must be worn as described in the manufacturers’ instructions (normally supplied with the respirator). The University is also legally required to carry out a face fit test to ensure an adequate facial seal for the wearer.

7.  Face fit testing

Where RPE is being used to control exposure to hazardous substances, the University requires all users to be face fit tested using a quantitative method (the TSI Portacount). The Portacount challenges the respirator with an aerosol of sodium chloride and measures the relative proportion of particles inside and outside of the respirator. It has a training benefit, as its real-time mode can be used to show the wearer the result of failing to fit the respirator correctly.

The preferred model of respirator for control of exposure to particulates (e.g. aeroallergens) is the 3M 7500, a half-mask respirator that is available in a range of sizes and has been shown to give consistently good results during fit tests. The fit test confirms that a particular size and type of respirator provides a proper fit, and therefore proper protection, for each individual undergoing the test. Note that the fit test is specific to a particular respirator and changing to a different make, model, size, or filter type (e.g. from a P2 to a P3 filter) will necessitate another fit test. If more than one type of mask is used, then more than one fit test will be required A retest will be necessary if there is a significant change to the wearer’s face, e.g. as a result of significant weight loss, dental work, or facial injury. The University does not otherwise require more frequent retesting. The tester must keep a record of the test for at least five years and should provide a copy to the wearer.

Departments are responsible for identifying who needs a fit test, for ensuring that they attend for the test and for keeping the records of the fit test. They should be kept for the duration of the individual’s employment and a copy should be provided to the wearer The Safety Office has a number of Portacounts and all Area Safety Officers have been trained in its use. Those wishing to use tight fitting RPE who have not been face fit tested must contact their ASO to arrange a test.

Those with beards will not be able to wear any tight fitting respirator, as they will not be able achieve a satisfactory seal against the face. Similarly, those with facial stubble may not be able to obtain a satisfactory fit. In such cases, the use of loose fitting respirators is the only option.

8.  Loose fitting respirators

These respirators generally use a battery powered fan unit to supply filtered air via a hood, helmet, or visor at a rate sufficient to avoid contaminants being drawn into the breathing zone. They are suitable for all those who cannot achieve a satisfactory fit with tight fitting respirators, because of facial hair or facial shape (e.g. those with very petite faces). Further details of different types of loose fitting respirators and appropriate standards are given in Appendix 1.

9.  Maintenance and record keeping

Non-disposable respirators must be examined for correct function (e.g. of seals, straps and valves) before use and maintained according to the manufacturers’ recommendations. Maintenance may include cleaning, disinfection, examination, repair and testing and should be carried out monthly, although for RPE that is used only occasionally this interval may be extended to three-monthly. Records of maintenance must be kept for five years.

10.  Storage

Non-disposable RPE should be cleaned after use and all RPE must be stored so that it is protected from adverse conditions (e.g. excessive heat or damaging chemicals). The inside must be kept free of contamination, so it should be stored in a bag or box and not simply hung in the contaminated area.


July 2009                                                                                                         

[1] Providing the wearer with protection sufficient to comply with legal requirements

[2]  Matched to the task, the wearer and the wearer’s environment

[3] In law, equipment manufactured before 1/7/95 may be exempt from this requirement, but the University requires RPE to be CE marked

July 2009