Respiratory Protection Equipment – RPE for short – is any Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) device that we use to protect our respiratory system. Over the past couple of years, of course, we all got used to using RPE in our everyday lives as the COVID pandemic gripped the world. However, RPE has been a staple of a variety of industries such as construction, medicine and sanitation for decades., and will continue to be a huge part of so many of these industries.
Here at NRS Training Services, we focus on the face fitting of half-face construction RPE masks. These masks are the type that are used for drilling things like concrete and rock, providing the worker with respiratory protection from the toxic dust particles which are flung in to the air as part of the drilling process. With all that said, let’s dive in and look at three reasons to come along and get your RPE professionally fitted to your face.
1) It’s not just dust
The dust kicked up by drilling in to construction materials isn’t just an annoyance, and it definitely isn’t something to suffer while working. The dust contains a mineral called crystalline silica, something so fine that you won’t be able to see it under normal light. This dust is well-known as the cause of a serious lung condition known as silicosis. This condition effectively hardens the lungs over time, making it more difficult for the lungs to expand as they should. As a result, it has been known to cause shortness of breath and chest pain, and in some cases can be fatal. This won’t happen immediately – it can take a decade for the damage to become severe enough for symptoms to show – but the danger is present all the same.
So we’re – hopefully – now agreed; we can’t be breathing this stuff in. As with most things, of course, PPE or RPE is the last line of defence – other safety measures such as management controls should be implemented as well. There are a range of prevention methods and safeguards in place, from the legislative level down to site planning and supervision. For example, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (CoSHH) Regulations 2002 give an exposure limit for crystalline silica, and sets out in law the requirement for employers to take reasonable steps to protect workers from long-term exposure from any hazardous substances. They also state that appropriate RPE must be worn – this must, at minimum, be a fitted half-face mask which is rated for protection against dust particles.
In summary, as an employee working with hazardous dust, you don’t want to be exposed for any longer than you have to, and want appropriate RPE to protect against the medical complications from breathing in silica dust. As an employer responsible for workers in these environments, you would be breaking the law by not following the CoSHH Regulations and ensuring that workers have been properly face fitted, with the appropriate mask, by a competent person who understands the process of face fitting.
2) Masks need to be the right type
So, it’s not good enough to stick on any mask and be done with it. Your mask needs to be the correct type and have the correct filter for the work you are doing. Masks of proper quality that can make a face seal are vital – so it should have adjustable straps which fit around the head, not ear loops. The mask should be sold with documentation which confirms that it meets the relevant regional or national standards for RPE – we’ve seen what happens when dust is breathed in over prolonged periods already.
Filters are colour coded for ease of identification. For dust protection a white filter should be used. You should familiarise yourself with the manufacturers recommendations with the filter, discarding them whenever they are expired, have been damaged or have been submerged in water. Ultimately, it’s in your own interest to carry out a pre-use inspection of your mask and filter before you carry out any work, but it’s a good idea to bring the mask to someone trained to identify problems and do a more thorough inspection of the mask before it goes on a job. Competent face fitters can check for damage or features which would prevent the
3) If it fits your face, it’s fit to use
The only way to know that your RPE is doing the job it should be doing is to get it properly fit tested. While you may think it fits fine and won’t allow dust in, or even tested it in your own way and didn’t feel anything, it may still allow some dust particles in and that’s not acceptable. Qualitative fit testing is also known as taste testing because a hood is used to create a controlled environment in which two sprays – a sweet and a bitter – are used to determine whether small particles are leaking in through gaps between your mask and face. Your reaction to the taste allows us to know whether you have a proper face seal, without exposure to anything harmful (although it might taste disgusting! It’s important that this test is done by a competent person with the correct equipment to ensure accuracy.
To be as accurate as possible, we need to ensure that the seal is done when any change of circumstances may influence the fit of the mask on the wearer’s face. That means that when you turn up for fit testing, you should turn up as you’d work – for example, with the eye protection which you would wear while wearing the mask. Other changes to your facial structure can have an effect on the fit of the mask; such as facial piercings, weight loss or gain, any dental work, or any moles, scarring, or general aging on your face.
However, some 10% of people simply can’t taste the solutions used in qualitative face testing. If this is the case, you should go and be fitted quantitatively – when the tester uses measurements to calculate your seal – at an approved RPE testing provider.
Booking RPE Fitting
We carry out high quality and efficient qualitative RPE fitting services for EN143 half masks. For further details and to book, contact us on 0208 895 6794 or email us on email@example.com.