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Respiratory Protection Buyers Guide


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All employers have a responsibility to control substances hazardous to health in the workplace and to prevent, or adequately control, employees exposure to those substances.

RPE is one of the most important pieces of PPE you will use in your workplace. When worn correctly it can protect against a wide range of hazards from dust to chemicals to fumes. When worn incorrectly (or not at all) it can cause immediate or long term damage to health. Bestworkwear.co.uk only source from reputable suppliers, so you can be sure that our RPE is fit for purpose and meets EU Safety Standards.

The following information has been taken from the HSE website. HSE also provide a great guide to the use of RPE in the workplace, which you can access here.

Your work activities may put you in contact with harmful substances, such as gas, dust and fumes, which can be damaging to health. For example:

• Cutting a material such as stone, wood or concrete produces harmful dust;

• Using a liquid containing volatile solvents;

• Handling dusty powder;

RPE should be adequate and suitable in order to offer full protection:

Adequate - it is correct for the hazard present and reduces exposure to the level required to protect health;

 Suitable - it is right for the wearer, task and environment, ensuring the wearer can work freely without the RPE presenting additional risks.

As with all PPE, RPE should be used as a 'last line of defence' when the hazard has been controlled as far as is practical or possible by other control measures. 

Where other hazard control is not possible or practical, or for short term, infrequent exposure, RPE should be worn and will be the wearers first line of defence against the hazard. You may need to wear RPE whilst other control measures are put in place and it may be required to allow workers make a safe exit in an emergency. RPE might be required for emergency work or rescue o during a temporary failure of other controls. 

RPE used in the workplace must be manufactured in accordance with the Personal Protective Regulations 2002. In practice this means you will need to use CE marked equipment. The CE mark indicates that the equipment has has met the minimum requirement for it's design. This mark does not automatically mean that an item of RPE is fit for a specific purpose or hazard. You will need to select a device that adequately meets the requirements of your work environment.

Forms of Substance

When selecting RPE you should have the following information to hand in order to select the correct product:

• The hazardous substance the wearer will be exposed to;

• The form of the substance in the air (eg gas, particle, vapour);

• The type of work being carried out;

• Any wearer specific requirements such as other headworn PPE or glasses etc.

Hazardous substances may be present in the air as particles if the hazardous substance is solid or liquid (eg asbestos or paint), or it may be a vapour or gas. Under certain conditions the hazard may exist in more than one form at the same time (for example during paint spraying). You will need to identify the form of hazardous substance in order to select the right RPE.

Remember that:

• Solid and liquid forms will be present as particles;

• fumes are very fine solid particles;

• smoke, fume and airborne liquids require RPE that is suitable for use against particles

In addition to this, volatile liquids, under certain conditions, may become airborne as both particles and vapour.

Various types of respirator are available and they all rely on filter material to remove the hazard. The filter materials differ depending on the substance, and it's form, they are designed to guard against. There are two basic filter types available:

• Partcile filters

• Gas/ Vapour filters


• Particle filters do not guard against gas or vapour;

• gas/ vapour filters do not protect against particles;

• neither filter can be used in oxygen deficient atmospheres

Some situations require a combination of filters suitable for the different substances and their forms that are present. Filters are available for situations where protection is needed against both
particles and specific gases or vapours. This type of filter will carry markings for particles and vapours, eg A2P3 = Organic vapour filter with capacity class 2 and high-efficiency particle filter.

You must ensure that the RPE you select will protect the wearer from the hazardous substance present. Your decision will depend on the amount present in the air and it's form (particle, vapour etc). The protection offered by an item of RPE depends on a number of things, including the protection factor; put simply this refers to the ratio of hazardous substance outside the RPE to the amount inside the RPE.

To guide you, each RPE type and class is categorised by an Assigned Protection Factor (APF). This is a number rating that indicates how much protection a particular piece of RPE is capable of providing (how much it reduces the wearers exposure to the substance). For example RPE with an APF of 10 will reduce the wearer's exposure by at least a factor of 10, if used correctly; the wearer will only breathe in one tenth or less of the substance present in the air. There are only a few number ratings used, so RPE APFs will be either; 4, 10, 20, 40, 200 or 2,000. When calculating the required protection factor always choose an APF above the calculated value.

It is important to measure and know the level of a substance present in the air as this will help you calculate the protection factor required. Where the hazardous substance has a prescribed 'Workplace Exposure Limit' (WEL) you need to ensure the worker is protected below the WEL. 

How to calculate the Required Protection Factor 

Using Toluene (a common solvent) we look at how to calculate the RPE protection factor required:

• Measured airborne toluene concentration - 350ppm (parts per million) within an 8 hour time weighted average (TWA)

• Toluene WEL - 50ppm

• Required APF to reduce to the WEL = 350/ 50 = 7

 In this situation you would select RPE with an APF above the required protection factor. In this case an APF of 10 would be required.

In situations where more than one hazard is present, find out the required protection factor for each and then select your RPE based on the highest protection factor required.

If you are unable to take exposure measurements in your workplace, the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives has developed an online tool, in conjunction with HSE, to assist you in selecting RPE. There is a link to this tool on HSE's web pages, here.

Fitting PPE

Before selecting RPE you need to find out if any user has any skin allergies, asthma, respiratory or heart conditions - or any other medical condition - as they may not be able to use certain types of RPE. If unsure you should arrange for the individual to have appropriate medical assessment.

You will need to consider;

• work rate;

• Wear time - wearer comfort and effectiveness of RPE;

• Vision requirements - does the user wear glasses. Does RPE obscure vision?

Other head worn PPE can interfere with RPE and should be considered when making your selection. RPE will also affect communication and you should consider how this will impact work and safety and solutions to compensate for this.

RPE should form a tight seal with the skin in order to be effective. Any gaps will make it considerably less effective. Remember that tight fitting RPE will only be effective if the wearer is clean shaven.

As everyone is different, it is unlikely that an item of RPE will be a good fit for everyone. It is well worth buying a large quantity of different styles of correct spec RPE and allowing employees to select their own. A fit tester - a competent person with appropriate skills and experience - should be consulted to check the fit of employees RPE.

Other Points to Consider

• Contact lenses; wearers may suffer discomfort, or if a lens dislodges they may removethe RPE to replace the lens whilst still in the hazard area;

• Flammable or explosive atmospheres; in rare situations RPE can be a source of ignition. In this situation you would need to source light alloy-free and anti-static RPE;

• Spectacles; the arms of glasses will break the seal of full face masks;

• RPE has a set life span and should be taken out of use after this time. It should be regularly checked, properly maintained and faults reported immediately. Keep a good supply in so a replacement is always available.

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