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RPE – Training, Maintenance, Storage and Disposal

Training

All operatives involved in the use, storage and maintenance of RPE should be properly trained and competent. According to the HSE, an effective training programme should cover the following points:

  • Why RPE is needed.

  • The hazards, risks and effects of exposure.

  • What RPE is being provided.

  • How RPE works.

  • Why fit testing is required for tight-fitting masks.

  • How to wear and check the RPE correctly.

  • Fit checking before use.

  • What maintenance is required and at what intervals.

  • Where and how it should be cleaned.

  • Where and how it should be stored.

  • How to report problems

  • How to rectify problems.

  • Employee and employer responsibility

  • Use and misuse of RPE.

When wearing a tight-fitting mask, the wearer needs to be clean shaven to ensure an effective fit. Too often I see operatives wearing tight-fitting masks with a beard! With an effective training program, this is less common. However, if operatives wish to keep their facial hear or are unable to be clean shaven, an appropriate alternative loose-fitting option should be selected for them.

Fit Testing

All tight-fitting RPE requires a fit test to ensure it is correctly fitting the wearer’s face. If the RPE doesn’t fit properly, it does not protect the wearer! This should initially be carried out when carrying out the initial selection. The HSE consider it good practice to carry out this test on a regular basis, particularly when the RPE is the primary means of control. The repeat of this test becomes imperative if there are any changes to the wearer’s face, which can occur from weight loss or injury.

Maintenance

As discussed previously, RPE must undergo thorough examination and testing (where needed) at suitable intervals, which would typically be monthly, but quarterly is acceptable where used less frequently.

When carrying out maintenance, it is important to adhere to the following:

  • A competent person should carry out the work.

  • The manufacturer’s instruction must be followed.

  • Records should be made and retained a minimum of five years.

  • Ensure suitable intervals are maintained and reflect the complexity of the system in question.

The key work carried out typically involves the following:

  • Changing filters due to their limited capacity.

  • Cleaning to remove contamination, moisture and microbes. Always follow the manufacturer’s advice here as the use of the wrong cleaning material can cause problems!

  • Thorough examination of straps.

  • Thorough examination of battery charge and airflow rate for powered devices.

As shown below, the HSE have produced a maintenance log record to help ensure the necessary information is collected:

Source: HSG53 – Respiratory protective equipment at work

Storage

One of the most frequent problems I see whilst on site is the inappropriate storage of RPE! Too often dust masks will be found abandoned on workbenches or in the pockets of dirty overalls. RPE should always be kept in clean storage areas away from contaminants. Some general rules to follow are:

  • Store RPE in accordance with manufacturer’s instruction.

  • Clean prior to storage to prevent contaminating the storage area.

  • Ensure storage is easily accessible to encourage correct storage during breaks – no more leaving the respirator on the workbench!

Disposal

RPE doesn’t last forever so there inevitably comes a time where it must be disposed of correctly. This may need to be considered as hazardous waste dependent of the substances involved and amount used. Always ask if you aren’t sure!

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