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Approximately 5.5million workers are exposed to respiratory hazards in the workplace, so it is, therefore, essential that they are kitted out with the correct respiratory protection equipment (RPE).

Selecting The Correct Protection

There are four steps when it comes to choosing the right respiratory equipment for your workplace.

First of all, you need to identify the hazards which are likely to be present, be it dust, metal fume, gas, or vapour. Then the hazards need assessing. What is the exposure limit? What level of protection is needed? Is there any other protective equipment required for eyes and skin?

Knowing all of that allows you to select the proper respirator. It could be that you need a disposable mask, a half mask, full face mask, powered, or airline respirator.

Once the respirator has been selected for the hazard, the application, and the individual wearer, it is essential to train the wearer in the correct fitting, use, maintenance, and care. This is also when you carry out a fit test to be certain of its suitability in order to optimise the respiratory protection.

What Are The Respiratory Hazards?

Dusts – Produced when solid materials are broken down into finer particles (such as wood or plastics), the longer the dust remains in the air and smaller the particles, the greater the hazard.

Mists – Tiny liquid droplets that are formed from liquid materials by atomisation and condensation processes such as spraying. Mists are often a combination of several hazard ingredients.

Metal Fumes – Created when metals are vaporised under high heat. The vapour cools quickly and condenses into extremely fine particles.

Gases – Airborne at room temperature, they’re able to diffuse or spread freely and quickly. They’re often odourless and invisible.

Vapours – Gaseous state of substances that liquids or solids at room temperature, they’re formed when substances evaporate, similar to the way water vapour evaporated from water.

Choosing The Right Equipment

When you’re picking which respirator workers need, you need to bear in mind the activities they undertake, as well as risks. For example, half masks are great for when they need unrestricted vision, or to wear other head gear such as shields or goggles.

Pay particular attention to the filters used in the masks, or that are available to work with them. Filter types are differentiated by a letter and colour, with each one suitable for different applications, and are often available in combinations to suit multiple hazards.

A (Brown) – Organic Vapours with a boiling point greater than 65°C.

AX (Brown) – Certain organic compounds with boiling points less than 65°C.

B (Grey) – Inorganic gases and vapours, such as chlorine.

E (Yellow) – Acid gases and vapour, including sulphur dioxide.

K (Green) – Ammonia and organic ammonia derivatives.

P1 (White) – Non-toxic dust and mist particles.

P2 (White) – Toxic dusts, fumes, and aerosol particles.

P3 (White) – Toxic and carcinogenic dusts, mists and fume particles.

As an example, an ABEK1P3 filter protects against a lot more hazards than an A1P2 filter.

Bear in mind any European Standards which are relevant to the work being carried out and the substances used when selecting equipment, as well as the Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) which is assigned to numerous hazardous substances.

In most typical applications, an FFP2 respirator is the best choice, with the disposable masks being a popular choice. However, where workers are exposed to hazards on a daily basis, it is worth ensuring that those at risk have their own mask they can rely on and fits them correctly.

Carrying Out Fit Testing

As of November 2002, the CoSHH regulations and associated ACOP require employers of wearers of tight-fitting facepieces to conduct a fit test to assess the degree of face seal leakage.

Because everybody is unique, a mask which fits one person may not suitably fit another due to their differing face shape and facial features. This is why fit testing is an essential part of the selection process, as the performance is dependent on good contact between the wearer’s skin and the face seal of the device.

There are two types of testing available:

When it comes to full face masks, a Quantitative test method must be used which is carried out by a suitably qualified person, usually from an outside agency.

With any other type of devices, such as filtering facepieces and half face mask respirators, then a Qualitative test can be carried out and is usually done so in-house by a competent person.

Having ill-fitting or inadequate protection can put life in danger or may lead to immediate or long-term ill health. Fit testing makes sure you get it right in the first place, to keep the wearer safe and in order to comply with health and safety legislation.


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