Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE)


Top tips to ensure that your equipment works for you.

Risk control can be achieved through many initiatives, mediums and actions, the principles of which are based on an established hierarchy of value driven options, known as the ‘Hierarchy of Control.’ This consists of 5 stages, those at the higher end, offer greater control than those at the lower end. 


The use of personal protective equipment has long been considered the least preferable option for controlling risks, especially when compared to other initiatives such as reducing exposure, limiting use, or avoiding risks entirely.

During the Coronavirus pandemic, scientists and safety experts have not always agreed on the most appropriate or suitable options to control exposure, reduce the incidence of infection or reduce transmission rates.

Although PPE does not always present the most effective level of protection, organisations have resorted to the use of respiratory protection equipment (RPE), and it has been widely distributed and implemented across all sectors of industry, and even in the public domain, its use has been increasing.

Many organisations have diligently revised their safety and hygiene controls, and having risk assessed the situation, have enabled occupation of premises and workspaces where risks can be identified and adequately controlled.

There is still great deliberation on the most effective ways of reducing the transmission and infection rate from Coronavirus, and a consensus regarding accepted and sufficient controls has not been finally agreed.

It is important that users of respiratory protective equipment ensure that it has been suitably designed, maintained, worn, cleaned, and specified in order to reduce risks as much as possible.

A respirator can reduce the volume of particulate, bacteria and spores entering the respiratory tract and can reduce the risks of damage to the lungs when exposed to hazards.

RPE Mask

The following advice should be followed to ensure that any equipment provided or selected achieves the greatest possible protection for the user:

  1. Make sure your face is free from facial hair.

    Consider the particular areas around the respirator that make contact with the skin. It is important that an effective seal can be achieved around the respirator so that any inhaled air is forced to pass through the diaphragm.

  2. Clean your hands before touching, or using, a respirator.

    Any additional bacteria, dirt or particulate which resides on your hands could allow exposure to the respiratory tract. Reduce the risk of infection through the maintenance of a sterile and hygienic respirator surface.

  3. Follow the respirator’s manufacturer’s instruction.

    For the safe and effective maintenance, fitment, use and handling of the equipment consult the manufacturer’s guidance. The respirator has a limited ability to protect the user, therefore the condition and specification of the respirator can greatly enhance its performance.

  4. Ensure the respirator is appropriate for your facial structures and shapes.

    To determine the respirator’s applicability, perform a fitment test for your own equipment, and select those which adequately limit intrusion of air through the sides, the nose clips, or the chin. All respirators must concentrate air through the vent at the front. Check the model, size, and shape of the masks when performing a fitment test.

  5. Avoid damaged or worn masks.

    If you observe the folding of any hard respirator masks, be sure to reject its use, if additional creases are observed (usually vertically inflicted). Open the mask and inspect its surfaces for cracks, rips, or tears. Reject the mask if you are not satisfied with its condition.

  6. Check the filtering materials for holes and damage.

    You can perform checks by presenting the mask’s surface into the direction of light, and through shining a torch through its respirator. Any holes, breaches, damage, or tears can allow air to pass through the respirator, unfiltered. And, this may encourage exposure to hazards. Reject all damaged masks.

  7. Check the mask’s diaphragm.

    Check the rubber diaphragm and push against the valve to create an effective seal. You can check the presence of the diaphragm by using a mirror or by touching the valve when exhaling.

  8. Ensure the respirator is worn in the correct manner.

    Cup the outer surface in your hands and place the mask over your nose, mouth, and chin. Press it firmly against your face and lift any straps around your head (or ears, depending on its design). Tighten the straps (pulling both ends at the same time) and feel for any gaps around the seal of the mask and your face. Press any nose clips against your face using your fingers, slide them down the nose clip to ensure full contact with your face. Do not overtighten your straps, make sure it remains firmly position, yet comfortable.

  9. Performing a fitment test.

    Once the respirator has been appropriately secured to your face, cup both hands around the respirator without affecting its seal. Breathe in and out, feel for any leakage or unfiltered air (that which passes on the outside of the mask, and not through the vent or filtered material). Repeat this until the fitment is sufficiently sealed. Make sure your hands are clean before performing this test.

  10. Make sure that your respirator is not affected by any other protective equipment.

    The use of glasses, goggles, ear plugs, or mouth guards should not impede the masks contact, and neither should the masks impede the other protective equipment’s fitment. If distortion of the equipment is observed, selected a mask with a different shape.

  11. Do not leave your mask around your neck, when not in use.

    Leaving a mask around your neck will encourage the collection of bacteria and debris etcetera, on the internal surfaces of the mask, and this could be inhaled upon continued use.

  12. Discard any dirt, damp, or soiled respirator.

    Do not use a mask which is not in good condition, remember that moisture can contain bacteria, dirt can harbour hazardous substances, and soiled surfaces can present biohazardous risks.

There are many types of masks and respirators available, be sure to conduct your own research to determine whether the masks meet your requirements.

The requirements of your mask will be dependent on the type of airborne hazards that are present, such as dusts, mists, vapours, fumes, and bacteria.

Some suitable standards to observe include BS EN 136 (Absorption), BS EN 149 (Filtration – FFp1 / FFp2 / FFp3), N95 (Surgical), PM 2.5 (Fine Particulate), KW94 (Filtration) etc. Remember to specify a mask that reduces exposure to all the contaminants that you may be presented with, not just those that protect from bacterial risks. 

For more information regarding safety, health or environmental risks and controls, contact us on 01394 389683 or