Simplifying RPE selection

23 January 2013

Frank Angear, membership services manager at The British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) discusses industry concerns around complicated RPE selection and the need to simplify the available guidance for selecting the correct RPE...

Frank Angear, membership services manager at The British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) discusses industry concerns around complicated RPE selection and the need to simplify the available guidance for selecting the correct RPE

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has two main areas of concern about the use of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) in the workplace. The one that is probably obvious to most people is that HSE inspectors often come across instances where employees should be using RPE, and are not.

However, a second concern that may be less obvious, but no less dangerous, is that they frequently encounter instances where employers have provided RPE to their employees, but they have not selected the correct type, or the RPE that is provided is not being used correctly.

Small businesses in particular have previously reported that the current available guidance on selection of RPE is both daunting in terms of its size and intimidating in terms of the complexity of the process they are required to follow. More straightforward guidance is required.

Now entering its 3rd year, the Clean Air? Take Care! Campaign is run by the BSIF with the support of the HSE and has produced simplified guidance and support documents on the correct selection and use of RPE. The campaign material is targeted particularly at SMEs and has successfully provided clarity in a succinct format and a straight forward approach to the process, that an employer or user needs to go through in order to select the most appropriate equipment.

For more information about the BSIF's Clean Air? Take Care! Initiative, visit:

The Scottish Initiative At the same time, since the autumn of 2009 an initiative has been running in Scotland aimed at raising the awareness of occupational health issues. This initiative was also targeted at small businesses as the Scottish safety groups had their own strong evidence that SMEs struggle with meeting the demands that health and safety legislation puts on them, not because of an unwillingness to comply, but because of the difficulty of extracting the information relevant to their applications from the complex guidance that is generalised to cover all industries.

A working group was formed and tasked with improving the situation, from which the 'Health Risks at Work' initiative was born. This has run very successfully since its inception on the Scottish Healthy Working Lives website and during the intervening period the HSE, who were represented on the working group, has been working to develop an online RPE Selection Tool, accessible from the same website, to offer a more user friendly approach to the selection process.

A new online tool for selecting Respiratory Protection Developed in consultation with experts, manufacturers, and other stakeholders, the HSE has now finalised the Selector Tool and links to it can be found on the websites of the organisations mentioned above, plus many others associated with our industry.

The tool provides a step by step process with straightforward questions. When required to make an assessment in answer to a selection question the options provided are clear and intuitive.

The whole process is complete in just a few pages and the tool ultimately provides an illustrated list of appropriate RPE types that the enquirer can select from.

You can try it for yourself. Start at the introductory page at: for extensive background information on RPE and a 'Start the RPE selector tool' button will allow you to follow the process, using details of your own application, to find a suitable choice of products.

Nationwide launch
Following the success of the tool and positive feedback from users in the Scottish region, Safety Groups UK is planning a nationwide launch of the 'Health Risks at Work - do you know yours?' initiative at the NEC in May during the Safety & Health Expo. To find out more information about the initiative, visit:

The HSE has recognised and acknowledged that the material they have previously provided in printed form, in particular their HSG53 booklet, is not the easiest or most user friendly guidance to find your way through and for the small business wishing to make sure that its employees are safe and properly protected it can look like a pretty steep hill to climb, but as part of their current RPE Project, launched in 2010, they are actively refining and simplifying the guidance they provide.

As part of that process, this online tool goes a long way towards providing small businesses with the clear and relevant information they need. They can tailor it specifically to their requirements, and seek guidance in a user friendly and nonintimidating environment.