Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)

Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)

Following the removal of some coronavirus restrictions in England, we want to remind all sectors of the importance of the correct use of RPE.
Employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees, and others who might be affected by their business. Issues to consider when assessing risks include:

  • when tight-fitting RPE should be used
  • how to select the right RPE for the job, and
  • the importance of fit testing to ensure a good fit, including the need to be clean shaven, as part of your RPE programme

This bulletin provides information and tools to help employers select and manage the use of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) in the workplace. There are many types of RPE designed to:

  • protect the wearer from a variety of hazards
  • suit a variety of work situations
  • match the specific requirements of the wearer

The information is applicable to disposable and reusable masks, breathing apparatus and powered respirators.

What is RPE?
The two main types of RPE are respirators and breathing apparatus.

Respirators (filtering devices) use filters to remove contaminants from the air being breathed in. They can be either:

  • non-powered respirators - relying on the wearer's breathing to draw air through the filter; or
  • powered respirators - using a motor to pass air through the filter to give a supply of clean air.

Breathing apparatus needs a supply of breathing-quality air from an independent source (e.g. air cylinder or air compressor).

Respirators and BA are available in a range of styles, dividing into two main groups:

  • Tight-fitting facepieces (often referred to as masks) rely on having a good seal with the wearer's face. These are available as both non-powered and powered respirators and BA. A face fit test should be carried out to ensure the RPE can protect the wearer.
  • Loose-fitting facepieces rely on enough clean air being provided to the wearer to prevent contaminant leaking in (only available as powered respirators or BA). Examples are hoods, helmets, visors, blouses and suits.

When can RPE be used?

  • when you might still breathe in contaminated air, despite other controls you have in place e.g. extraction systems
  • when there is short-term or infrequent exposure and using other controls is impractical
  • whilst you are putting other controls in place
  • when you need to provide RPE for safe exit in an emergency
  • when you need to provide RPE for emergency work or when there is a temporary failure of controls
  • when emergency rescue by trained personnel is necessary

Choosing the right RPE
RPE should be right for the:

  • wearer
  • task
  • environment

To help you choose the right RPE, you can use the online RPE Selector Tool. The Tool was jointly developed by the Health and Safety Executive, NHS Health Scotland and Healthy Working Lives (HWL) based on HSE's RPE guidance HSG53.

Using RPE
To ensure your RPE works, you should make sure:

  • the chosen RPE fits, is suitable for the task and the wearer
  • you conduct fit tests for each wearer, for each piece of tight-fitting RPE they use
  • the RPE works with other protective equipment the user wears
  • the wearers are trained to use it and are supervised
  • you maintain each device as per the manufacturers' instructions
  • the RPE is stored properly

Should you require any further information, clarification or assistance please contact us on or 01268 649006.