26 October 2016

HSM speaks to Jonathan Oswald, UK sales manager - safety division, GVS Filter Technology UK, about the correct use of RPE when faced with airborne hazards.

One of the common difficulties our customers in the Safety Division struggle with is how to protect their workers from airborne hazards. According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) there are around 12,000 deaths per year due to occupational respiratory diseases sustained in the workplace.

That’s 12,000 families suffering with the loss of a loved one through something that may have been prevented. Exposure to asbestos, silica, and many other harmful substances is proving to be a killer, and control measures must be put in place when working in areas with these airborne hazards. Following the hierarchy of control, it is not always possible to remove or isolate the hazards completely, and in these cases, as well as controlling the hazards, suitable and adequate Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) should be issued.

When selecting RPE there are many factors to consider. First of all; is the RPE adequate? Does it provide the correct level of protection? For example it is recommended that a minimum of FFP3 should be worn when working with silica dust, therefore anything under this would be deemed inadequate and wouldn’t offer sufficient protection to the wearer. Do any of the airborne hazards contain vapours or gases? Is a gas filter needed? The workplace exposure limit (WEL) should always be checked, and in some cases a positive pressure respirator will be required.

If a negative pressure respirator or tight fitting respirator is adequate, the next thing to be considered is the suitability; does it fit the wearers face? In an ideal world it would be easy to order a 'one size fits all' respirator, but unfortunately no such product exists. You only have to look around the workplace to see the differences in facial features, therefore the chances of having one respirator to fit the entire workforce are very slim, and you should consider ordering different sizes. A face fit test should be carried out.

here are two common types of fit testing available; a quantitative fit test whereby a Portacount is used to measure the ambient particles inside and outside the respirator when donned, giving you a fit factor. There is also the qualitative fit test method (commonly known as the hood test). This is where a bitter or sweet solution is used and should only be tasted by the test subject if the respirator is poorly fitted. More information on fit testing can be found on HSE website under the OC 282/28 document.

Once you have selected a suitable and adequate respirator, the next thing to think about is training. You can have the best mask in the world, giving the best possible face fit, but if the wearer doesn’t know how to fit it correctly, it may as well not be worn.

Manufacturer’s guidance on how to fit the mask is normally a good place to start, and the old cliché; practice makes perfect. We are seeing an increase in the number of companies opting to use half mask respirators over a disposable respirator due to a higher level of filtration being offered, and generally a higher pass rate in fit testing. If using a half mask respirator is preferred in your business, it is important to train the workforce on the maintenance of the mask and changing of filters. When should they be changed? How are they changed? etc. This should all be covered in the training programme.

HSE are putting a lot of emphasis on the importance of respiratory protection, and there are many campaigns being run to offer a lot of help and useful information. Things like the HSE and BSIF led “Clean Air? Take Care!” campaign offers a huge amount of information on how to implement RPE in your business.

Together we can make a difference and help protect workers from airborne hazards in the workplace.