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Many workers wear respirators or breathing apparatus to protect their health in the workplace. 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.

The HSE have stated that poorly maintained RPE is unlikely to provide the required protection. The RPE in use must be properly stored, cleaned and checked regularly to ensure it remains effective.

In addition, you must ensure that reusable RPE undergoes thorough examination and, where appropriate, testing at suitable intervals. This should be monthly, or every three months if used less frequently. This will not only make sure the RPE protects the wearer but will also extend the life of the equipment and so maximise your investment. You should record RPE examinations and tests – and, where appropriate, any repairs made – and retain them for at least five years. The records will help to keep track of the equipment’s maintenance.

Maintenance is a requirement for all RPE, except for disposable (single use) RPE, and should be carried out by properly trained personnel. Thorough maintenance, examination and tests should be carried out at least once a month. However, if the RPE is used only occasionally, an examination and test should be carried out before use and, in any event, the interval should not exceed three months.

As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to control substances hazardous to health in your workplace, and to prevent and adequately control your employees’ exposure to those substances. Provision of RPE may be necessary as part of your control regime.

RPE can protect only the wearer and if it is used incorrectly, or is poorly maintained, it is unlikely to provide the required protection.

What is an RPE Programme

As part of your risk assessment, justify the reasons behind your decision to use RPE.

An RPE programme encapsulates all the elements of RPE use you need to ensure that your RPE is effective in protecting the wearers.

To have an effective RPE programme you need to:


        + Correctly select RPE.

       + Train for correct use.
+ Ensure correct use (including supervision).
+ Check to ensure RPE is working correctly before each use.
+ Maintain RPE in accordance with manufacturer's instructions and law.
+ Keep records as required by law.
+ Correctly store RPE.
+ Correctly dispose of RPE.

Any shortcomings in one of the steps in the programme could result in wearers not receiving adequate protection.


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