Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is just one means of protecting people from potentially hazardous materials, gases, pathogens and vapors in the air.
In fact, RPE is often referred to as the ‘last line of defense’ against respiratory hazards.
Thinking of RPE in these terms is helpful in two ways:
The traditional hierarchy of controls for hazards shows us that when faced with hazards in the workplace, there is a proper order of response to best minimise risk and keep employees safe.
Can the worker be protected sufficiently against harm through specially designed workwear?
A practical example
Alex is a stonemason and is about to start working on a luxury quartz kitchen worktop. When cutting quartz, silica dust is produced – which is extremely hazardous to health if inhaled. Extended exposure to silica dust can lead to scarring on the lungs, shortness of breath, occupational asthma and silicosis – a deadly lung disease.
Running through the hierarchy of controls we can see whether Georgina requires RPE in this situation.
Running through the hierarchy shows us that while certain actions can be taken to minimise risk, in her situation RPE would be essential for protecting her health.
Most FFP3 respirators used in the healthcare environment are tight-fitting (whether single-use, half-face or full-face). Tight-fitting respirators of any kind require Fit Testing before first being used to ensure that the make/model of respirator suitably fits the wearer’s face. Not Fit Testing a respirator could lead the employee to have a false-confidence that they are protected from respiratory hazards, when in fact they are still breathing in contaminated air.
Fit Testing staff members required to use tight-fitting respirators before use is a legal requirement for the employer. Failure to do so could endanger staff health and lead to a considerable fine.