Dr Stephen Cowley is an experienced occupational health and safety expert spending many years of his career working in industry. In the first and second parts of this article, Steve discusses the selection, use and storage and maintenance of personal respiratory protective equipment. This final part explores training and education and draws everything to a conclusion.
Training & Education
Underpinning effective face fit, proper use, and maintenance, are education and training; educating about the hazards of the substances being worked with, the importance of always checking the face seal, maximising the percentage time worn and properly maintaining and storing equipment; and training in the practical skills necessary to fit, use and maintain equipment.
Research from 1999 found that of 211 half-mask wearers taken from the workplace and tested, 69% failed a face fit test. It was found that the face fit test pass rate was significantly higher among wearers who were given structured training.
Respiratory protective equipment is often seen as a quick and low-cost solution to a problem, but an effective personal respiratory protection program requires a lot of work, it takes time and the equipment and consumables are expensive. Therefore, any decision to use PRPE should start with consideration of the preferred options; can the airborne contaminants be eliminated through a change in process or through substitution by a safer alternative? Can enclosure or exhaust ventilation be used to reduce airborne concentrations? These may be more cost-effective solutions.
Respiratory protection remains, however, an important control measure. It may be necessary for short-term risk control whilst better control is developed. It may be necessary for maintenance tasks that cannot otherwise be controlled and occasionally it may be used as a supplementary risk control. Whatever the circumstances, it is a risk control measure that is very heavily dependent on procedures and the behaviour of individual PPE users, and it is therefore a low-reliability solution.
The lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic underline the importance of an understanding of the role of PPE in risk control and of carefully and cautiously selecting devices.
Simply allowing the release of an airborne contaminant and preventing inhalation by covering the nose and mouth of everyone who might be exposed does not make sense when preventing or controlling release at the source will mean that everyone is protected.
For any more information on RPE or anything else you’ve read here please contact [email protected] or call our offices on 01530 412777.
 Burgess, G.L. & Mashingaidze, M.T. (1999) Respirator Leakage in the Pharmaceutical Industry of Northwest England, Ann. occup. Hyg., 43 8, 513-517