Updated: Dec 20, 2021
RPE, respiratory protective equipment, is a type of PPE, which helps to protect people
from breathing in substances that are hazardous to health. Some people find RPE a
confusing topic as there are a lot of options. Consider these factors when selecting to
use RPE as your control against hazardous substances.
Airborne substances hazardous to health can be found in dust, mist, vapour or gases. You may or may not be able to see it in the air. If these hazardous substances are inhaled, workers or other people (visitors) could become unwell.
Depending on the substance, the effects can be immediate or long term. Common immediate effects can include headaches, feeling dizzy and sick, and eye and skin irritation. Long term effects include cancer, organ damage and death.
Managing Risk Using RPE
To manage risks arising from respiratory hazards, all appropriate and effective control
measures which are reasonably practical need to be considered. With a preference of
control measures that protect multiple people at once. PPE, such as RPE, should not
be the first or only control measure considered.
RPE is not a quick and easy solution. RPE can be costly to maintain and replace.
Engineering controls, such as exhaust ventilation may be more cost effective long term.
If RPE is the selected control measure, there are some factors to consider when
selecting the most appropriate RPE for your circumstance.
• Is the RPE appropriate for the hazardous substance? (check SDS)
• Is the RPE suitable for the work involved?
• Will the RPE create another risk?
• Does the RPE work with other PPE the worker uses?
There are a few types of respirator protection equipment to select from. It is important
research options and identify the best respiratory system for your work.
Respirators: Use filters to remove contaminants from the air the wearer breathes.
Powered Air Supply: (PAPRs) Contaminated air is forced by a powered fan through filters
to provide purified air for the wearer.
Supplied Air Respirators: Provide a supply of clean air from a source, such as a cylinder
or air compressor.
Workers need to visually check their respirator for signs of damage before each use.
Workers must inform management immediately, if there is any damage or defect that
they become aware of.
RPE needs to be kept clean and stored correctly. As respiratory equipment should not
be shared having each team member trained of how to use, check, store and clean their
own RPE is recommended.
Fitting of RPE:
With everyone’s faces being different shapes and sizes it is important to have
employee’s fit-tested before purchasing the equipment. It is unlikely that one
model will fit every employee’s face characteristics.
Fit testing can be either qualitative (smell or taste tests) or quantitively (involving
specialist equipment). Negative pressure RPE must have a tight seal around the
face to be effective.
Fit-testing can be a useful training exercise to teach workers how to use and
wear their RPE properly. It is suggested fit-testing is performed once a year,
especially if the worker has changed weight or has sustainable dental work
completed. The worker needs to be tested for each piece of RPE they use.
Facial hair and stubble can make it almost impossible to get a tight seal. If a
negative pressure RPE is used please discuss the importance of clean shaven
skin to workers. Jewelry, glasses, long hair and makeup can also compromise
A ‘RPE check’ before entering the hazardous zone should be conducted to
ensure tight and correct fit of the RPE. (see attached poster)
If a workers glasses fog up when wearing a half-face respirator, this indicates
there is a leak at the top of the mask.
We recommend that a written record of the respiratory protection programmed ,
including training, selection and use of RPE and any health monitoring are kept
on record. Keeping a record of regular reviews to RPE and any changes that
result is also recommended.
See in PDF, the below free poster for your workplace.