Respiratory protective equipment at work

What does RPE stand for?

There are many types of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) or respiratory ppe available, designed to protect people from a variety of hazards in the workplace. These suit a variety of workplace situations and should match the specific requirements of the wearer. Many workers wear respirators or breathing apparatus to protect their health; these devices are collectively known as respiratory protective equipment (RPE). Respirators filter the air to remove harmful substances and breathing apparatus (BA) provides clean air for the worker to breathe.

Whether you are an employer or self-employed, this guide will help those who have responsibility for the use of RPE at work.

RPE should be used when there is a possibility of breathing in contaminated air, even if other controls are in place, such as an extraction system. The respirators use filters to remove contaminants from the air, allowing the wearer to breathe safely. There is a RPE scale that will ensure you meet various fit factors and so you much ensure that you get your PPE qualitative fit testing to maximise safety in the workplace. So if you are looking for half face masks or full face masks, you need to ensure you go through a face fit test.

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

For example, when:

  • Cutting a material such as stone or wood.
  • Using a product containing volatile solvents.
  • Handling a dusty powder.
  • Welding stainless steel.

To select RPE that will protect the wearer you will need a basic understanding of:

  • The hazardous substance and the amount in the air (exposure).
  • The form of the substance in the air (e.g. gas, particle, vapour).
  • The type of work being carried out.
  • Any specific wearer requirements, such as other PPE being worn at the same time or a need for spectacles.

Work activities may result in harmful substances contaminating the air in the form of dust, mist, gas or fume. Workers may also need to work in areas where oxygen levels are low such as confined spaces, a chamber or tank. RPE is designed to protect the wearer from these hazards:

Efficiency Filtration efficiency (80 - 99%)
Anti-clogging (D)
Construction Silica
Brick dust
Metal fumes Welding
Ferrous metal fume
Lead fume
Fibres Fibre glass strand
Mineral fibres
Rockwool insulation
Woods Wood (soft)
Wood (hard)
MDF hand tools
Painting  Water based
Powered prep
Manual prep
Mechanical stripping

Specific requirements for RPE use

A fit test should be performed before entering a contaminated or hazardous area to ensure that the RPE is working correctly for you.

RPE is available in different sizes to allow for the facial differences of workers. Gender, ethnicity, build and many other factors mean that one size of face piece will not fit everyone.

You will require RPE that is adequate and suitable to ensure the wearer is protected. This means:

• Adequate – It is right for the hazard and reduces exposure to the level required to protect the wearer’s health.

• Suitable – It is right for the wearer, task and environment, such that the wearer can work freely and without additional risks due to the RPE.

Other common factors about the wearer you need to consider are:

• Do they have facial hair or markings that could prevent a good seal between the wearer’s face and the RPE?

• Do they have any pre-existing medical conditions?

• Do they wear spectacles or contact lenses?

Remember, (RPE) can protect only the wearer if it is used correctly. If poorly maintained or used incorrectly, it will not provide the required protection. (RPE) can be uncomfortable to wear and may interfere with work, which can lead to incorrect use.

For more information and further guidance, please visit:

Choosing the suitable protection for your task

Below is a graph with information to help you select the type of RPE that best suits you and the task at hand. It depicts the level of filtration efficiency, the types of protection offered and which EN standard it relates to:

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