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Respiratory Protective Equipment [July 2004]

Published: 10th Jul 2004 in Health and Safety International

Three out of four fire fatalities are caused by smoke inhalation and most lung and chest related diseases including cancers are a result of long-term exposure to various dusts, fumes or particle filled atmospheres.

This emphasises how essential it is that the correct respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is provided by employers and worn by employees when they are subjected to or enter a hostile environment where chemical fumes, dust, fire or other respiratory hazards are expected. In many instances, particularly for rescue personnel, these may be life threatening situations and the protection must be the very best available.

Selecting suitable RPE

The RPE must be chosen to match:

  • The job
  • The wearer
  • Work environment related factors
  • Exposure concentrations (expected or measured)

The RPE selected must ensure that the wearer has adequate clean air to perform the job function whilst providing adequate protection in direct relation to the identified risk without impeding or causing a hazard to the wearer. Consideration must be given to the potential oxygen deficiency and the presence of more than one hazard within the environment i.e. vapours and fibres.

RPE must be properly fitted and maintained. It may seem obvious but a poorly fitted or maintained item of RPE could be as ineffective as no RPE.

Physical considerations

The RPE selected should take into account a range of physical considerations such as:

  • The protection factors of the RPE available
  • Potential oxygen deficiency and/or the actual or potential presence of one or more hazardous substances in the operating environment
  • The nature of the task to be performed. The more strenuous the task the greater the use of oxygen will be
  • The atmospheric temperature
  • Facial characteristics of the wearer: facial hair, glasses, etc
  • Medical fitness of the wearer
  • Complete period the RPE will be used by he wearer
  • The comfort of the equipment
  • Does the RPE impinge on mobility or communications in operation: confined space or air-lines forming trip hazards
  • The effect of other PPE that is not integrated: goggles, helmets, hoods, etc

The protection factors provided by different types of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) are stated in BS 4275:1997; Guide to implementing and effective respiratory device programme. Some of the Assigned Protection Factors (APF's) given are given in Table 1.

When considering what RPE is suitable for each application the starting point should always be with the RPE with the highest protection factor. Then consider all of the points covered previously: facial hair, medical fitness, comfort of the equipment and the risk of any unexpected short-term high exposure. The reasons for your selection must be recorded in your risk assessment.


Devices designed to offer filtration as a method of protection to a wearer are generally made up of two components, that being a face piece and a filter. The primary function of the filter is to physically remove contaminates contained in the atmosphere. These hazards can be in the form of a gas, particles or a mixture of both. Before work is undertaken, knowledge of the hazards to be encountered must be attained. Once this is established the correct filter type can be selected. Filters can be divided into three main types:

  • Particulate (filters that remove solid and liquid particles)
  • Gas (filters that remove gas)
  • Combined (filters designed to protect against both gas and particle contaminates)

European standards require that the filter or filter label is coloured and marked to allow the user to identify what type of hazards and level a filter will offer protection against. See the table below.

A recent change in the field of filter standards is the combination of the three separate standards covering gas filters: EN 141:2000, EN 371:1992 and EN 372:1992 into one standard. The new standard, BS EN 14387:2004, encompasses all the gas filter requirements in one document resulting in user convenience and clarity.

Face pieces are designed to convey the filtered air to the wearer, as well as being designed to prevent the contaminated air getting to the wearers breathing zone. An example of where the face piece acts also as a filter is in the case of disposable face masks to EN 149:2001 where the face piece is made from a filtering media which removes the contaminates from the air.

Types of filtering device

Devices designed to filter contaminated air for a wearer to breathe can be broken down into two main groups:

  • Un-powered
  • Powered

Un-powered devices use the negative pressure produced by the wearer inhaling to draw the air through the filter. These types of devices require a tight fitting face piece to ensure that there is no leakage of the mask.

Powered devices can be broken into two smaller subgroups: power assisted (which are required to be tight fitting i.e. a mask, in case the wearer is likely to encounter high workloads) and powered devices, which rely on a continuous supply of air to give the wearer adequate oxygen; these may be tight or loose fitting.

One thing that must be ensured is that if a filtration device is to be used, the ambient oxygen level must be greater than 20% as these do not generate oxygen for the wearer.

Breathing apparatus

These types of devices differ from filtration devices in that they use a supply of air from a known and uncontaminated source. This means that they are ideal for use in oxygen deficient atmospheres, confined spaces or where the wearer is unsure of the hazards to encountered, such as by fire fighters. The Fire Service will predominately utilise RPE conforming to EN 137, self-contained open circuit compressed air breathing apparatus. This consists of a single unit covering the eyes, nose, and mouth area allowing the operative to communicate and move without compromising the level of protection.

As with all protective equipment it is important that the compressed air cylinder aspect of the apparatus does not limit the fire fighter in terms of weight or design and prohibit or hinder them from operations. The apparatus must be capable of performing in all orientations.

The air can be supplied by three primary sources:

  1. A cylinder worn by the wearerThis type of device offers the highest level of protection and is used in environments immediately hazardous to the wearer
  2. Airline hose from a known clean sourceThese can be broken down into two subgroups: light duty for general everyday tasks and heavy duty for high risk and confined space areas
  3. Fresh air hose where air is drawn from a "clean area" If the device is unassisted then the hose length must be less than 9 meters due to the physical abilities of the wearer. The hose length and bore must be adhered to when using this type of device

Self contained devices for self-rescue also fall into this category; these types of products are for escape purposes only and should only be used for leaving a hazardous area in an emergency. Under no circumstances should they be used for normal tasks or entry into a hazardous area for rescue purposes.


There are a vast array of specifications pertaining to RPE and each of them vary in criteria. Appropriate current RPE specifications include:

  • EN 140: 1998Respiratory protective devices. Half masks and quarter masks. Requirements, testing, marking.Replaces BS 7356: 1990
  • EN 143: 2000Respiratory protective devices. Particle filters. Requirements, testing, marking.
  • EN 149: 2001Respiratory protection devices. Filtering half masks to protect against particles. Requirements, testing, marking for filtering half masks for protection of the respiratory tract against particles.
  • EN 12941: 1998Respiratory protection devices. Powered filtering devices incorporating a helmet or hood. Requirements, testing, marking.Replaces BS EN 146: 1992
  • EN 12942: 1998Respiratory protection devices. Power assisted filtering devices incorporating full-face masks, half masks or quarter masks. Requirements, testing, marking.Replaces BS EN 147: 1992
  • EN 1835: 1999Respiratory protection devices. Light duty compressed air line breathing apparatus incorporating a helmet or hood. Requirements, testing, marking.
  • EN 405: 2001Respiratory protection devices. Valved filtering half masks to protect against gases or gases and particles. Requirements, testing, marking.
  • EN 270: 1994Respiratory protection devices. Compressed air line breathing apparatus incorporating a hood. Requirements, testing, marking.Replaces BS 4667: Part 3: 1974
  • EN 136: 1998Respiratory protection devices. Full-face masks. Requirements, testing, marking.Replaces BS 7355: 1990 and BS EN 136-10: 1992
  • EN 137: 1993Respiratory protection devices. Self-contained open-circuit compressed air breathing apparatus. Requirements, testing, marking.Replaces BS 7004: 1988
  • EN 138:1994 (2000)Respiratory protection devices. Fresh air hose breathing apparatus for use with full face mask, half mask or mouthpiece assembly.Replaces BS 4667: Part 3: 1974
  • EN 139: 1994Respiratory protection devices. Compressed air line breathing apparatus for use with a full face mask, half mask or mouthpiece assembly. Requirements, testing, marking. REPLACES BS 4667: PART 3: 1974
  • BS EN 14387:2004Respiratory protection devices - Gas filters and combined filters
  • BS 4275:1997Guide to implementing an effective respiratory device programme

Personal Protective Equipment Directive (89/686/EEC)

All RPE needs to comply with the requirements of the PPE Directive. Personal Protective Equipment is defined as "any device to be worn or held by an individual for protection against one or more health and safety hazards". The Regulations also apply to any system placed on the market in conjunction with PPE for its connection to another external, additional device.

Protective equipment is expected to be safe and fit for its stated purpose. Manufacturers, distributors, legislators and users alike demand this minimum expectation. The industry-wide commitment to responsible manufacturing is supported and governed by a range of Standards and Regulations e.g. the PPE Directive.

Before purchasing any PPE specifiers should consult the "Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992". The Regulations contain 14 regulations for employers to consider as part of their pre-purchase risk assessment. Purchasing to a standard does not necessarily satisfy all of the requirements of Regulation 6 - Assessment of PPE.

The PPE Directive became law on 1st January 1995 with a two-year transition period for equipment manufacturers to adapt and implement the new requirements. For PPE products to be sold within the European Economic Area (EEA) they must be CE Marked. The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 (SI 1996/3039) contain the enforcement powers extended to Trading Standards Departments.

Failure to comply with these Regulations may mean that PPE will be prohibited from being placed on the EEA market. It should also be noted that if the product is placed on the market in non-compliance, the chance to CE Mark the product may be forfeited.

There are a few exemptions within the PPE Directive relating to equipment specifically for the Armed Forces, PPE for self-defence (Aerosol canisters, etc) and helmets and visors for two or three wheeled vehicle users. The PPE Directive breaks the certification of personal protective products into three categories:

  • PPE of simple design, defined as "products where the designer assumes that the user can himself assess the level of protection provided against the minimal risks concerned the affects of which, when they are gradual, can be safely identified by the user in good time" - for example gardening gloves, thimbles, etc
  • PPE of complex design, defined as products the design of which is "intended to protect against mortal danger or against dangers that may seriously and irreversibly harm the health, the immediate effects of which the designer assumes the user cannot identify in sufficient time" - for example, all types of respiratory protective devices such as SCBA, chemical suits and fall arrest equipment
  • PPE of intermediate design, product that is of neither simple nor complex design - for example most forms of eye and head protection


Simple design PPE

In all cases manufacturer can "self-certify" their products.

Intermediate and complex design PPE

For equipment that is in the complex category the manufacturer is required to have a CE Type-Examination conducted by a Notified Body.

The manufacturer must ensure that their products conform to either the relevant harmonised European standard (BS, EN, ISO) or a technical specification deemed to be appropriate by a Notified Body. It is important to note that products marked with a BS or BS EN standard reference have not necessarily been tested by the British Standards Institution (BSI).

The CE Marking process requires the manufacturer to submit samples for test to a Notified Body, such as BSI, and they must produce their own "declaration of production conformity". All of this must be reviewed and deemed acceptable before the Notified Body approves the use of the CE Mark.

In addition to this, complex category equipment will require ongoing monitoring of production, and products will then be subjected to regular testing to ensure continued conformance. This can be done through two routes:

  • Article 11A
  • Article 11B

Article 11A

This is the annual testing of a product to ensure conformity. A Notified Body will select samples of a product on an annual basis and test it against the relevant standard.

Article 11B

The Article 11B route can be followed if the manufacture has a documented quality system and facilities in place to test a product on site to ensure conformity. This route requires that the Notified Body audit this system on an annual basis to ensure conformity.

The CE Mark is a product conformity mark; it is not a product quality mark and should not be interpreted as such.

Notified Body and Competent Body Status

BSI Product Services is a Notified Body for the Personal Protective Equipment Directive 89/686/EEC. BSI also has Notified Body status for a comprehensive portfolio of other European Directives, these include the Low Voltage Directive 73/23/EEC, EMC Directive 89/336/EEC, Marine Equipment

Directive 96/98/EC, the Pressure Equipment Directive 97/23/EC and the Medical Devices Directive 93/42/EEC.

BSI is actively involved as a Notified Body in eight main areas of PPE testing, Certification and CE Marking, namely hearing protection, respiratory protective devices, eye protection, head protection, footwear, gloves, protective clothing and high visibility garments.

Future developments

The importance of PPE can never be underestimated. The International Standards Organisation (ISO) is planning to make all national standards and European standards pertaining to fire fighting equipment become ISO standards. Currently this is a draft proposal and will take some time to implement.

The European standard for self contained breathing apparatus, BS EN 137: 1993 is currently being reviewed to include a flame engulfment test. This test will put the equipment through extremes including temperatures of 900?C.

In 2002 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issued a publication relating to fit testing as an approved code of practice for the selection of respiratory protection used in industries involved in lead, COSHH and asbestos. Additional information on these aspects of RPE can be found on the Health and Safety Executive guidance document HSG53 selection.

Published: 10th Jul 2004 in Health and Safety International


Paul Gemmell

Product Manager
BSI Product Services,
Maylands Avenue,
Hemel Hempstead,
HP2 4SQ.
United Kingdom

Paul Gemmell



+44 (0) 1442 278630
+44 (0) 1442 278630

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