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Toolbox talk Respiratory Protective Equipment

Toolbox Talk: Respiratory Protective Equipment

Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is a type of personal protective equipment (PPE) that protects people from breathing in substances hazardous to health.

Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is a type of personal protective equipment (PPE) that protects people from breathing in substances hazardous to health. This quick guide is for workers who use RPE at work.

Respiratory protective equipment

Common short-term (or acute) health effects from breathing substances hazardous to health may include headaches, forgetfulness, drowsiness, feeling dizzy and sick, mood changes, and eye and skin irritation. Long-term (or chronic) effects include sleep disorders, memory loss, cancer, organ damage, fertility problems and death.

When do you need to wear your RPE?

You need to wear RPE when you are doing work where you could breathe in substances hazardous to health.

Types of respirators include:

Respirators that use filters to remove contaminants from the air the wearer breathes. These can be:

  • disposable (commonly referred to as dust masks). These are designed for short term or one-off use. They are only available to protect the wearer from harmful particles such as dust, fume, and fibres.
  • reusable. They can come in half face and full-face versions, with the wearer able to choose the correct cartridge for protection from a variety of contaminants.
  • Powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) where contaminated air is forced by a powered fan through filters to provide purified air for the wearer.
  • Supplied air respirators that provide a supply of clean air from a source such as a cylinder or air compressor.

Do not take RPE off when inside a hazardous area – even for a short time, and make sure that you put on the RPE before entering the hazardous areas.

Fit Checking:

If you cannot get your RPE to fit properly talk to the PCBU as you may need to get another size or make. Facial hair and stubble (even one day’s growth) make it almost impossible to get a good seal between your face and RPE. If you have a beard, you should talk to your PCBU about other forms of RPE that do not rely on a tight face fit. Jewellery, glasses, long hair, and makeup can also compromise face fit. If your safety glasses fog up, this indicates that there is a leak at the top of the respirator.

Cleaning RPE:

You must tell management when you become aware your RPE needs to be cleaned or decontaminated. It is very easy to damage the sensitive inhalation and exhalation valves.

You should:

  • clean RPE after each use
  • follow the instructions from your training and the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • use the recommended detergent and disinfectant as some harsher products can cause damage.
  • rinse RPE well to prevent skin irritation.

Note: Disposable RPE should not be cleaned.

Maintaining RPE:

You must tell Management of any RPE damage or defect that you become aware of.

You should:

  • inspect your RPE regularly for signs of damage.
  • check the straps for perishing, breaks, tears, and loss of elasticity.
  • check the inhalation and exhalation valves are working.
  • replace particulate filters if there is an increase in resistance when breathing if they are damaged or if they’re past their service date.
  • replace vapour or gas filters when scheduled.
  • change cartridges immediately when you detect a smell or taste.
  • for PAPRs and supplied air respirators, check the connections and settings.
  • check the battery charge and flowrate for powered devices.

Storing RPE:

  • follow the RPE manufacturer’s instructions. Also, you should:
  • store your RPE in a clean dry place, away from dust, oil, and sunlight.
  • RPE should be stored so that it does not get crushed.
  • keep gas and vapour filters in containers or bags with airtight seals.
  • this is so the moisture in the air does not get adsorbed onto the filter material.
  • store half-face respirators or full-face respirators fitted with gas cartridges in a sealed container between uses.