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Whether it’s in the workplace, or simply carrying out some DIY at home, there are many activities and materials which can affect your breathing and your health. That’s why it is so important to ensure you’re kitted out with the correct respiratory protection equipment (RPE).

Approximately 5.5million workers are exposed to such hazards every year, and this is in a variety of jobs from construction, industrial and chemical workplaces. And before selecting, it’s important to know what hazards you’re wanting to protect against, whether its dust, metal fumes, gas or vapours.

Then you need to assess how long users are likely to be exposed to such hazards, the level of protection they need, and whether they need to additionally protect their eyes and skin.

If there is low-level of risk, then disposable masks may be appropriate, but for high risks, half masks and full face masks could be necessary.

This then needs correctly fitting for the individual user to ensure an air-tight seal is created so only clean air is breathed in. With elasticated masks, this shouldn’t be too much of a hassle, but for reusable masks which can be adjusted, this is essential, as is regular maintenance.

Fit testing is also required as of November 2002, the CoSHH regulations and associated ACOP require employers of wearers of tight-fitting facepieces to conduct a fit test to assess the degree of face seal leakage.

This is because what is suitable for one person isn’t for another. Different face shapes and sizes, facial features and hair are all factors that would influence the performance of a mask. After all, it can only perform as well as the contact between the wearer’s mask and skin.

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  • What Are The Hazards?

    Dusts are produced when solid materials are broken down into finer particles, such as when drilling, sawing or sanding of wood and plastic. The longer the dust remains in the air and the smaller the particles, the greater the hazard.

    Mists are tiny liquid droplets that form when going through condensation or sprays. The ingredients of the mist define how hazardous it can be.

    Metal fumes are created when metals are vaporised under high heat, such as when carrying out hot works, and the vapour then cools quickly and condenses into fine particles.

    Gases are often odourless and invisible, airborne at room temperature, they’re able to diffuse and spread freely.

    Vapours are the gaseous state of substances that are liquids or solids at room temperature but form when substances evaporate.

  • What To Look For?

    When you know the hazards you’re looking to protect against, and the exposure limits, you need to ensure the face masks and filters (if applicable) are right for the job. These are easily identifiable from the letter and colour which denotes each one, and they’re suitability for certain applications.

    These are often available in combinations to suit multiple hazards.

    A (Brown) – Organic Vapours with a boiling point greater than 65°C.

    AX (Brown – Certain organic compounds with boiling points less than 65°C.

    B (Grey) – Inorganic gases and vapours, such as chlorine.

    E (Yellow) – Acid gases and vapour, including sulphur dioxide.

    K (Green) – Ammonia and organic ammonia derivatives.

    P1 (White) – Non-toxic dust and mist particles.

    P2 (White) – Toxic dusts, fumes, and aerosol particles.

    P3 (White) – Toxic and carcinogenic dusts, mists and fume particles.

    As an example, an ABEK1P3 filter protects against a lot more hazards than an A1P2 filter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better suited.

    And if you’re needing to wear additional PPE, such as safety glasses or ear muffs, you need to ensure the different equipment doesn’t interfere with each other.