The dangers of not wearing RPE correctly

If you or your staff are working in the vicinity of asbestos and you fail to wear RPE correctly the consequences could be severe.

Being out on the frontline helping organisations to manage their asbestos safely means we’re no strangers to wearing RPE.

For anyone who doesn’t know RPE stands for Respiratory Protective Equipment and it comes in two main types – respirators and breathing apparatus.

RPE is one of the most essential pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) that we use in our line of work because it plays a vital role in protecting workers from the dangers of asbestos dust and fibres.

However, if RPE is to be effective it is essential that you choose the right type of RPE for the task at hand and that you ensure it is fitted correctly.

How important is it for RPE to be fitted correctly?

Recently, we received a sad reminder of what can go wrong if someone is not wearing RPE correctly.

A few weeks ago, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed that during a recent investigation it had found that Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust breached health regulations on RPE worn by staff during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The investigation was conducted after the tragic death of Furness General Hospital radiographer Simon Guest from the virus in April 2020.

Morecambe Bay Trust was given formal written advice after it was found that not all persons had received adequate face fit testing to ensure that tight fitting respirators, worn as personal protective equipment for certain procedures, sealed adequately to the wearer’s face.

What can we learn from this case?

Firstly, this case shows all too painfully the importance of RPE being used and fitted correctly. The consequences here were that someone tragically lost their life and that an NHS Foundation Trust has been found to be in breach of health regulations.

The case has also had an impact on the trust’s reputation as news of the breach has made the headlines in several leading publications in the north of England.

In its own report of the case, the HSE concluded that it ‘will take enforcement action where it finds a duty holder has not taken the necessary steps to ensure proper fit testing is conducted’.

If the HSE is willing to investigate and take action against an NHS Trust for RPE mismanagement, then private companies and organisations should be left in no doubt that the HSE will not hesitate to take action against them if they are found to be in breach of the law.

As we said earlier RPE is an integral part in the arsenal used to protect people from the dangers of asbestos. So, this case should act as a warning to builders, maintenance staff, electricians, plumbers, carpenters – essentially anyone who may come across asbestos in their day-to-day work – to ensure  they’re wearing RPE correctly.

What RPE should I wear if I am dealing with asbestos?

The HSE has produced a useful factsheet to educate professionals about the types of PPE and RPE they should use if their work involves asbestos.

For most non-licensed work of a short duration, the HSE advises that you should use suitable RPE with a UK-assigned protection factor (APF) of 20 or more. Wearers should use a disposable respirator to standards EN149 (type FFP3) or EN1827 (type FMP3), a half-mask respirator (to standard EN140) with P3 filter or semi-disposable respirator (to EN405) with P3 filter. In this instance workers should select a make and size that fits them.

However, this equipment is unsuitable for people with beards or stubble – who should wear hooded respirators – or for long periods of continuous use which require power-assisted equipment.

Workers also need to be fit tested to make sure that the RPE fits them properly before the work starts.

It is the duty holder’s responsibility to ensure that any tight fitting RPE used by an employee is correctly fit tested by a competent individual.

Competency can be demonstrated by accreditation under the Fit2Fit RPE Fit Test Providers Accreditation Scheme. This scheme has been developed by the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF), together with industry stakeholders, and is supported by HSE. The scheme is not compulsory, and employers are free to take other action to comply with the law.

As trained asbestos experts who use RPE all the time, we would urge anyone using RPE to not leave this to chance – make sure you know how to fit it correctly. If you need any help with this, the HSE has also produced a helpful guide on RPE fit testing which provides information on fit test methods.

What if I fail to use RPE correctly?

If you or your staff are working in the vicinity of asbestos and you fail to wear RPE correctly the consequences could be severe.

You may be putting people’s lives at risk because exposure to asbestos can cause the cancer mesotheliomaasbestos-related lung cancerasbestosis which scars the lungs and pleural thickening which alters the lining of the lungs.

Organisations can be prosecuted and heavily fined for breaches and in some cases company owners and managers can be personally fined and even receive custodial sentences.

The HSE provides lots of information to help keep people safe from asbestos but if you need help, we’d urge you to turn asbestos experts for advice and support rather than take any risks.

Acorn has been providing commercial asbestos expertise to organisations across the UK for more than two decades and our management team has more than 100 years of combined experience.

As a result, you can be confident that we have the skills and resources to manage asbestos concerns for clients of all sizes and from all industries.

As an independent and impartial UKAS accredited asbestos surveying company we can promise that we will only ever provide you with ‘best practice’ advice that’s right for you.

So, if you need help to deal with asbestos safely contact us today.

Acorn is a professional asbestos consultancy helping organisations deal with asbestos compliance using asbestos surveysasbestos air testing, and asbestos removal management. Please call one of the team, or use the online form to obtain your free quotation. If you would like further information or advice on asbestos and asbestos training, contact the team on 0844 818 0895 or Contact Us

Ian Stone

I am based out of our Northampton office but regularly travel to meet with new and existing clients. I have assisted thousands of clients over the years on varying-sized projects, several have been schemes totalling over one million pounds spent purely on asbestos. Together with Neil Munro, I host our weekly podcast – Asbestos Knowledge Empire and I am Co-author of Asbestos The Dark Arts and Fear and Loathing of Health and Safety.

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