Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is a form of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). There are two main types, the first is a Respirator (Filtering Device) used to prevent the wearer from inhaling any harmful/hazardous substances in the air. Wearing a Respiratory Mask is essential as it will prevent you from becoming ill at work. In particular, it protects you from illnesses that affect your airways such as coughing, wheezing or struggling for breath. The other main kind of RPE is Breathing apparatus (BA) which can supply you with quality breathing air from an independent source. All RPE has to comply with the range of RPE classifications defined by the European standard EN149.

RPE Fit Testing

Many people do not like to wear a mask as they say that it can make them too hot or uncomfortable. You may find that this is the case but it should reduce over time as you become used to the mask.

Facial hair can make it impossible to get a working seal around your face. Therefore, if you have a good reason for having facial hair, religion for example, then there are alternative options of RPE that don't rely on a tight fit or a seal in order to protect you.

There are many different masks available and it is vital that you find one that fits you correctly as a small gap can mean that the hazardous substances that you are trying to avoid can still get in.

How often should I replace my RPE?

Disposable dust masks should be replaced after each use as they are not designed to last and will be ineffective. Reusable masks, however, can be used over and over again but you may find that it becomes harder to breathe after a while. This means that you will need to replace the filter within the mask. Even if you do not notice any change in your mask's effectiveness it is recommended that you dispose of a filter after 30 days or 40 hours usage depending on which comes around first. Remember that different hazards require different filters, therefore you must research which filter is suitable for the situation and conditions that you will be in before you proceed with the work or your health could be at risk.

A history of RPE

Way back in the year 1799, Alexander von Humbolt, a mining engineer from Prussia introduced an early form of the respirator in an attempt to protect minors from dust and any other harmful particles in the air. It wasn't until 49 years later that Lewis P Haslett got a US patent for a respirator that could purify the air by filtering dust using one-way clapper valves and a filter made of moistened wool.

Scottish Chemist, John Stenhouse developed the first respirator that was able to remove toxic gasses from the air using activated charcoal. This design was improved by a British physicist named John Tyndall created a fireman's respirator using a filter of cotton wool saturated with lime, glycerin, and charcoal.

Nowadays we have a range of different types of respirators such as Disposable Masks, Half Face Masks, Full Face Masks and Powered Air Systems. They are designed to defend against the 5 main hazards that are found in the air, these are dust, mists, fumes, vapors, and gases, all of which can be very harmful if inhaled.

When should I use RPE?

Your employer is responsible for assessing health and safety and if masks have been issued for the job in hand it is vital that you wear one.

It is imperative that you know when you could be exposed to airborne hazards as failure to wear respiratory protective equipment when it is needed can result in discomfort, illness or even death. Did you know that 12,000 people die EACH YEAR due to long-term exposure to respiratory hazards at work? People can underestimate the danger of these airborne substances and therefore may think that it is okay to work without RPE in a contaminated environment if it is only for a short time... it is not! Just a couple of minutes of exposure can cause long-lasting issues, don't think that the danger isn't there just because you cannot see it.


Some examples of hazardous substances you could be exposed to at work are...

  • Asbestos dust
  • Engine exhaust particles
  • Lead dust and fume
  • Silica dust
  • Welding fume
  • Shot blasting dust
  • Wood dust
  • Smoke
  • Fungal spores
  • Bacteria
  • Virus
  • Parasites
  • Sprayed droplets
  • Paints
  • Pesticides
  • Powder coating mix
  • Liquid jetting
  • Sewage water
  • Mists
  • Chrome acid
  • Cutting fluids
  • Oil Mist
  • Ammonia
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Freons
  • Helium
  • Nitrogen
  • Mercury vapour
  • Solvent vapours
  • Engine exhaust gases
RPE List Source

You should first analyze the conditions and find out exactly what you will be exposed to. Then find yourself the appropriate respiratory protective equipment for the situation ensuring that the filter is designed for the particular substance that you will be exposed to, checking that the equipment is clean and the filter is working to its full effect. When putting a mask on make sure that there are no gaps in the seal where harmful particles could get in. (Facial hair mean ineffective seal!) After usage be aware that you must clean your RPE thoroughly and store it in a clean place.

Ordering Respiratory Protective Equipment from Site King

We have a range of Respiratory Protective Equipment available on our website, order your's today!

Remember, if you have any questions. Feel free to get in contact with us via telephone, email or even our live chat feature.