Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)

Many workers wear respirators or breathing apparatus (RPE) to protect their health in the workplace. There are a few different types of RPE and it should all be adequate and suitable. Adequate means it should be right for the hazard and it should reduce exposure to the level required to protect the wearer’s health. Suitable means it is right for the wearer, task and environment, such that the wearer can work freely and without additional risks due to the RPE.

As RPE is a form of PPE, therefore the employer must supply RPE to whoever needs it in his workforce.

Work activities may result in harmful substances contaminating the air in the form of dust, mist, gas or fume. For example:

  • Cutting a material such as stone, concrete or wood
  • Using a liquid containing volatile solvents
  • Handling a dusty powder

Workers may also need to work in areas where oxygen levels are low, for example: confined spaces, such as a chamber or tank. RPE is designed to protect the wearer from these hazards.

What is RPE?

There are 2 main types of RPE, these are respirators and breathing apparatus. Respirators are filtering devices, they use filters to remove contaminants from the air being breathed in. They can be either non-powered, relying on the wearer’s breathing to draw air through the filter or they can be powered, using a motor to pass air through the filter. Breathing apparatus needs a supply of breathing-quality air from an independent source e.g. air cylinder or an air compressor.

There are 2 main styles that the RPE comes in, tight-fitting facepieces (masks) and loose-fitting facepieces. Tight-fitting facepieces rely on having a good seal with the wearers face. A face fit test should be carried out to ensure the RPE can protect the wearer. Loose-fitting facepieces rely on enough clean air being provided to the wearer to prevent contaminant leaking in (only available as powered respirators or BA). Examples are hoods, helmets, visors, blouses and suits.

Selecting the correct RPE

Remember RPE should be the last resort. You can do a number of other things before RPE for controlling measures.

When you think you could be: Breathing in contaminated air despite other controls in place (extraction systems) or when there is short-term or infrequent exposure and using other controls is impractical you will need to choose some form of RPE to protect you.

To choose the correct RPE that will protect the wearer you will need a basic understanding of the hazardous substance and how much is in the air, the form of the substance (e.g. gas, particle, vapour), the type of work being carried out and any specific wearer requirements such as other PPE or a need for spectacles. If you are ever struggling to choose the right RPE for the task you’re doing, a quick visit to the HSE website would be a great help.

Once you have selected the correct type of RPE, you will need to make sure that it is being used correctly across your workforce. To ensure it is used correctly, you must make sure:

  • The RPE fits and is suitable for the task and wearer
  • You should also conduct a fit test for each wearer for each type of tight-fitting RPE they use
  • The RPE should work with any other PPE the user wears
  • The wearers should be trained in how to use and they should be supervised
  • Each device should be maintained as per the manufacturers’ instructions
  • All RPE should be stored properly


Face Fit Testing

If you are using RPE with tight-fitting facepieces you should make sure each wearer has a fit test. You can use the fit test as a training opportunity, as it allows you to highlight to the wearer the consequences of poor fit and improper use on the effectiveness of the RPE device. It is also good practice to have a system to ensure repeat fit testing is carried out on a regular basis. This is especially important when RPE is used frequently as a primary means of exposure control, e.g. annual testing for workers involved in licensed asbestos removal. If there are any changes to a person’s face through, for example, weight loss/gain, scars etc, a repeat fit test will be necessary.

RPE fit testing should be conducted by a competent person – you should take steps to ensure that person who carries out the fit test is appropriately trained, qualified and experienced, and is provided with appropriate information to undertake each particular task.

RIDDOR Reporting

RIDDOR is an abbreviation of Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013. It puts duties on employers, the self-employed and people in control of work premises to report certain serious workplace accidents, occupational diseases and specified dangerous occurrences (near misses).

Only ‘responsible persons’ including employers, the self-employed and people in control of work premises should submit reports under RIDDOR. As an employer you must report any work-related deaths, and certain work-related injuries, cases of disease, and near misses involving your employees wherever they are working. If you are in control of premises e.g. a site manager, you must do the same but report dangerous occurrences/near misses that occur on your premises.

For most types of incidents, including:

  • Accidents resulting in the death of any person.
  • Accidents resulting in specified injuries to workers. Types of reportable injuries are available here
  • Non-fatal accidents requiring hospital treatment to non-workers.
  • Dangerous occurrences.

The responsible person must notify the enforcing authority without delay. You can do this by reporting online which is the easiest way. For fatal accidents or resulting in specified injuries to workers only, you can phone 0345 300 9923. A report must be received within 10 days of the incident happening.  For accidents resulting in the over-seven-day incapacitation of a worker, you must notify the enforcing authority within 15 days of the incident, using the appropriate online form.

If you are wanting to make a RIDDOR report, you can go to the HSE website and they have forms for different types including injury reports, dangerous occurrences, disease reports etc.


Most of the information was taken from the HSE website.

Watch our video on RIDDOR here:


Work at Height

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 apply when you’re working at height, which means work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. These regulations are put in place to prevent death and injury caused by falls from height.

Employers or anyone in control of work at height activities must make sure everything is planned out properly, that it is supervised and carried out by competent people. Before any work starts, the employers must first assess the risks. Employees have general legal duties to take reasonable care of themselves and others who may be affected by their actions.

Falls from height are one of the biggest causes of workplace fatalities and major injuries. Fall from height accounts for 20% of fatalities at work. To prevent falls from height you should make sure permanent safe access arrangements should be installed where possible.

Before you start working at height you must take these points into account:

  • Avoid work at height where it is reasonably practicable to do so.
  • Where work at height cannot be easily avoided, prevent falls using either an existing place of work that is already safe or the right type of equipment.
  • Minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, by using the right type of equipment where the risk cannot be eliminated.
  • Only competent people should be working at height.

Also, when you’re planning to do work at height the safe system of work needs to be taken into account. This means doing things like:

  • Supervision of workers that may be necessary e.g. work equipment selected lower down the hierarchy of control, such as fall arrest equipment, will require a higher level of supervision.
  • Weather conditions that workers might be exposed to e.g. working in rainy conditions on a slippery surface or an icy roof.
  • Any emergency or rescue procedures that may be required e.g. what to do if someone falls while using a fall arrest system.

You might be thinking how you decide who is competent to work at height. You should make sure that people with sufficient skills, knowledge and experience are doing the job, or if they are being trained, e.g. an apprentice, are working under the supervision of a competent person. If the task might just be involving a ladder for example, then the employees might just need instruction on how to use the equipment correctly. When a more technical level of competence is required, for example drawing up a plan for assembling a complex scaffold, existing training and certification schemes drawn up by trade associations and industry is one way to help demonstrate competence.


Employers have duties concerning the provision and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) at work.

PPE is equipment that will protect the user against health or safety risks at work. It can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses. It also includes respiratory protective equipment (RPE).

Making the workplace safe includes providing instructions, procedures, training and supervision to encourage people to work safely and responsibly. Even where engineering controls and safe systems of work have been applied, some hazards might remain. A lot of the time, PPE can be used to reduce the remaining risks.

Although PPE is very effective, it should be used as a last resort. You should always try eliminate or reduce the risk before you turn to PPE. All appropriate PPE should be free of charge to your employees; it is your duty to look after them and make sure they are safe. You should also choose equipment carefully and make sure employees are trained in how to use it properly and how to detect and report any faults.

When you’re selecting and using PPE you must:

  • Choose products which are CE marked in accordance with the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002.
  • Choose equipment that suits the user e.g. the size, fit and weight of the PPE.
  • If more than one item of PPE is worn at the same time, make sure they can be used together, e.g. wearing safety glasses may disturb the seal of a respirator, causing air leaks.
  • Instruct and train people how to use it, e.g. train people to remove gloves without contaminating their skin.

All PPE must be properly looked after and stored when not in use, if the equipment is reusable it must be kept cleaned and in good condition. While maintaining PPE you should think about:

  • Using the right replacement parts which match the original, e.g. respirator filters.
  • Keeping replacement PPE available.
  • Who is responsible for maintenance and how it is to be done.
  • Having a supply of appropriate disposable suits which are useful for dirty jobs where laundry costs are high, e.g. for visitors who need protective clothing.

PPE should be monitored and reviewed regularly. You should check if PPE is being used by your employees. If it isn’t, you should find out why. Safety signs can be useful in reminding people that PPE should be worn.  Take note of any changes in equipment, materials and methods – you may need to update what you provide.

All information was taken from the HSE.

Watch our video on PPE:

Look at a previous news article on PPE:

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Watch our Top 10 Health & Safety Tips video here.


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