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Respiratory protective equipment - guide to the selection and use of RPE at work

This British Safety Council guide sets out general advice on the correct selection and use of respiratory protective equipment (RPE).

RPE, such as face masks, can be a vital tool in preventing workers from breathing in harmful substances that can seriously damage their health or even kill them, such as dusts, fumes, vapours and gases.

However, RPE must only be used as last line of protection once all other reasonable methods of preventing exposure have been attempted. It must also be properly selected, used and maintained so that it adequately protects the health and safety of the user.

UK employers are required under laws such as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) to take all reasonably practicable measures to prevent – or adequately control – exposure to hazardous substances to protect the health of their employees.

Under COSHH, employers must first try to prevent exposure to the hazardous substance or process altogether if it is reasonably practicable to do so – for example, by using water-based rather than solvent-based products. However, if it is not reasonably practicable to prevent exposure, employers must adequately control it, following a hierarchy of measures.

The guide looks at:

  • the RPE selection process

  • fit testing RPE

  • training for RPE users

  • maintaining RPE.

The guide reiterates that, although RPE is widely used throughout UK workplaces, it must only be used as a last resort measure. It is available in full here.

British Safety Council September 2021


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