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Changing RPE standards: Make sure you're informed

23 January 2013

A number of enforced changes to the standards for respiratory protective equipment (RPE) have recently taken place. Geoff Hooke from the BSIF explains why the amends have been made and how this will affect users, specifiers and suppliers of RPE

A number of enforced changes to the standards for respiratory protective equipment (RPE) have recently taken place. Geoff Hooke from the BSIF explains why the amends have been made and how this will affect users, specifiers and suppliers of RPE

The publication of an amendment to EN 149 completes the adjustment of a suite of respiratory protection standards, replacing the former versions which now no longer have a 'presumption of conformity' to the PPE Directive/Regulations.

Triggered by work carried out in France, concerns were expressed about the use of electro-static attraction to enhance the filtering process in oily conditions. It was noted that RPE testing standards did not take account of products used in these circumstances which are then reused after storage. It was believed that safety could be compromised when the information on the product is unclear or incomplete and the standards amendments were to correct this problem.

As a consequence of this the need arose to differentiate between products which should be only be used once [non reusable] and disposable products which can be reused - subject to suitable cleaning [reusable]. The latest standard to be amended [EN 149 2001 +A1 2009] addresses both of these matters.

To ensure these changes could take place in a limited amount of time it was decided that these new standards would be amended instead of reviewed, which would have taken several years. BSIF Manufacturers of these products and the BSIF Association involving all the UK notified bodies combined to generate a proposal, known as the 'BSIF Solution', that provided an effective one year transition from the time when the amended standard is published, by which time manufacturers would have changed to the use of the new standard and notified bodies would withdraw CE Certificates against the former standard.

What are the changes?
The new test methods mean that particulate filters are able to accept a higher loading to eliminate potential loss of performance when electro-static filter media are used in oily conditions and as a result a distinction has been made between filters which are reusable and non reusable products. Reusable products are suitable for storage and use the next day, providing the filter is unclogged and they are able to withstand being cleaned and disinfected using a method provided by the manufacturer. When the ability of the product ceases to be effective they should be discarded. Non reusable products should be discarded after use. These products will be clearly marked with either R - reusable or NR - non reusable.

All PPE should be supplied with information to show the standard to which it conforms. Products conforming to these new standards can be easily identified by an addition to this reference indicating that it has been amended with an additional date. Depending on which standard is being referenced this will be 2007, 2008 or 2009, e.g. EN 149 2001+A1 2009. In some cases a shorthand reference to the standard might appear on the product.

Products manufactured before these amendments were in place will not carry a reference but could still be suitable for use.

PPE Regulations apply to manufacturers and not to product held in distributor and retailer warehouses therefore products conforming to the former standards are likely to be on the market for some time. If you are using a particulate respirator more than once e.g. you store and reuse it, look for the reusable R marking as they start to come into use. If the selected product carries the NR marking you should consult your supplier regarding an alternative product. If neither marking is shown, this will be one of the older stock items and guidance should be sought.

Specifiers and managers involved in the selection of suitable protection against hazardous dusts and particles will need to be fully aware of the impact of these amendments to make competent judgements when deciding which products to use. In all cases where these amendments are not referenced on the product, the BSIF would strongly suggest that suppliers are consulted to confirm whether the product being used is suitable protection against the identified hazards. The BSIF is confident that its members supplying respiratory protection will be fully in compliance and able to assist their customers, even more so if they are also Registered Safety Suppliers.

If RPE users are concerned that the amendments are not referenced on the product or a NR marking is on a product formally used as a reusable product, they should speak to their health and safety manager to ensure the product provided gives suitable protection for the task to be completed.

The BSIF is producing an online booklet outlining the changes to EN149 / respiratory standards which can be found at www.bsif.co.uk. For further advice or clarification on the recent amends to RPE standards contact the BSIF at mailto:b.s.i.f@btconnect.com or 01745 585600