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Toolbox Talk: Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)

By July 13, 2023 August 11th, 2023 No Comments

Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)

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.

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.

Some Facts (as of March 2023)

  • Each year, around 3,000 construction workers suffer from breathing and lung problems they believe were caused or made worse by their work
  • It is estimated that around 4,000 construction workers die each year as a result of breathing in dust and fumes at work
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 your health.

Types of respirators include:

Respirators 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 fibers
  • 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 a powered fan forces contaminated air through filters to provide purified air for the wearer
  • Supplied air respirators that supply 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 Safety Department for an annual fit test, as you may need to get another size or model. Facial hair and stubble (even one day’s growth can) make it almost impossible to get a good seal between your face and RPE. If you have a beard, you should talk to your safety department about other forms of RPE that do not rely on a tight face fit. Jewelry, glasses, long hair, and makeup can 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 that 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 mild detergent (such as Dawn) and disinfectant, as some harsher products can cause damage
  • Rinse and dry 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 that 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 vapor or gas filters when scheduled (as indicated in the cartridge change log)
  • Change cartridges immediately when you experience a breakthrough (when you detect a smell or taste)
  • Check the connections and settings for all RPE with a special emphasis on PAPRs and supplied air respirators,
  • Check the battery charge and flow rate for powered devices
Storing RPE:

As per 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 vapor 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
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