Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) Programmes

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When selecting RPE, information such as the type of substance to be protected against, exposure levels and the type of work being carried out will all be required. Consultation with wearers of the equipment will help determine what is suitable for the individual, correct for the task and the environment it is to be used in. There is also a legal requirement for face fit tests to be undertaken to ensure adequate protection for individual wearers, for both disposable and re-usable RPE.

There are a number of barriers that can prevent RPE from being an effective method of controlling risks, e.g. a lack of clear instruction on when RPE is to be used, which can result in employees using their own judgement on when the RPE should or should not be worn. Therefore, employers should clearly communicate to employees via safe systems of work and training the work tasks that require RPE to be worn.

Having been issued the appropriate RPE, employees may sometimes misuse the equipment e.g. moving the RPE away from the face to talk during a task. Supervision combined with action against noncompliance will demonstrate that management consider the misuse of RPE a serious issue. Management should lead by example and wear RPE when supervising tasks that require RPE to be worn.

Work related respiratory hazards are not always visible to the naked eye and health effects can have long latency periods. Both of these factors may contribute to an inaccurate perception of respiratory risks within the work force, e.g. employees believing RPE is not required for ‘quick jobs’.

Educating staff on how the RPE protects them along with supervision will help improve employee attitudes.

Simply issuing RPE to staff is not sufficient in controlling respiratory risk. An effective RPE programme supported by proactive management procedures are required to maintain the effectiveness of RPE as a control measure.

An RPE programme should include:

  • Correct selection of RPE.
  • Face fit testing for both disposable and reusable RPE, by a competent person.
  • Training for staff, including refresher training.
  • Clear instruction on when and how RPE should be worn.
  • Supervision.
  • Systems for dealing with non-compliance.
  • Communication between employees and management.
  • Records of issue, training and repair.
  • Maintenance programme.
  • Health Surveillance – where applicable.

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