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Control measure
Respiratory protective equipment (RPE)

Control measure knowledge

Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is a particular type of personal protective equipment designed to protect the wearer from breathing in harmful substances, or from oxygen-deficient atmospheres, when other controls are either not possible or insufficient on their own.

The two main types of RPE are respirators and breathing apparatus (BA):

  • Respirators are filtering devices that remove contaminants from the air being breathed in; non-powered respirators rely on the wearer breathing to draw air through the filter
  • Breathing apparatus (BA) requires a supply of breathing-quality air from an independent source such as an air cylinder

Where RPE is used, it must be able to provide adequate protection for individual wearers. RPE cannot protect the wearer if it leaks. A major cause of leaks is poor fit; tight-fitting face pieces need to fit the wearer’s face to be effective.

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 regular intervals in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Face fit testing

Face fit testing is a method of checking that a tight-fitting facepiece matches the wearer’s facial features and seals adequately to their face. A fit test should be carried out as part of the initial selection of the RPE and it is good practice to ensure repeat fit testing is carried out on a regular basis.

See: Regulation 7, The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended)

See: HSG53, Respiratory protective equipment at work, 4th Ed. HSE (2013)

Breathing apparatus

Breathing apparatus (BA) enables firefighters to breathe safely in otherwise irrespirable atmospheres. The use of BA as a control measures is likely to be applied as part of the incident plan for any incident involving

  • Smoke and fire gases,
  • Specified risks for confined space
  • Hazardous materials including:
    • Asphyxiants
    • Dusts
    • Toxic, flammable and explosive substances

The Foundation for Breathing Apparatus guidance outlines procedures that should be adopted at operational incidents involving the deployment of BA. These procedures allow efficient, effective and safe working practices to be adopted at incidents of all sizes and type where an irrespirable atmosphere presents a hazard to personnel.

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services must:
  • Provide employees with suitable RPE that fits the wearer correctly and adequately controls identified risks

  • Ensure that personal RPE worn simultaneously is compatible and does not negatively impact other safety measures

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Specify the type of RPE required for hazards identified through risk assessment and communicate to personnel

  • Have policies, procedures and guidance for all personnel on the safe use and management of respiratory protective equipment at incidents

  • Provide suitable information, instruction and training to all personnel who may be required to wear respiratory protective equipment

  • Have suitable arrangements for the provision, testing and maintenance of respiratory protective equipment

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Ensure that all personnel wear the type of RPE identified by service risk assessments, procedures and training

  • Implement BA entry control procedures appropriate to the level of risk identified