Respirator Masks

Respiratory protective equipment (RPE), when used with the correct filters, can be used for various hazards that are either particulates (dusts, mists and/or fumes), or gases and vapours.

RPE comes in many forms: disposable, reusable half face, reusable full face, powered, airline and breathing apparatus (BA). If RPE is required to safely perform your job, masks conforming to other country standards cannot be used in the UK.

RPE worn in the UK must conform and be tested to the correct EN standards as per UK Legislation. RPE is classed as Personal Protective Equipment therefore is enforced by the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2018 as well as Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002.

For all tight fitting RPE, the wearer must be clean shaven and have face fit tested before application.

For more information, please see our Respiratory Protection Guide.

Take a look at our Face Coverings Expert Advice, where you'll find downloadable expert guides, a free face coverings poster, be able to shop related products and 'Ask our Safety Experts'.

Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE) FAQs

RPE or Respiratory Protection Equipment is designed to stop the wearer breathing in harmful substances in the air.

There are two categories:

Tight fitting - (also known as negative pressure)

This is RPE that relies on a tight seal being achieved with the face. All tight fitting RPE must be fit tested before use. Examples of tight fitting are FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 disposable masks, half, or full-face respirators.

Loose fitting - (also known as positive pressure)

This is RPE that does not rely on a tight seal. Contaminated air is drawn in by a powered unit and through a filter. The air is then fed over the wearers face allowing them to breathe normally within the hood.

No, to be classed as RPE masks must have gone through testing and meet relevant standards.

In any situation where you are exposed to harmful airborne substances, for example:

  • Welding
  • Cutting wood, concrete or stone
  • Dealing with chemicals or chemical spills
  • Handling dusty products like flour

There are many situations where RPE may be required. If you are unsure, seek professional help.

Some can, some are designed to be single use. Generally speaking, ‘dust masks’ are disposable and are designed to be discarded after use. Half and full powered face masks are reusable as the filters can be discarded, allowing the rest of the apparatus to be reused.

Fit testing is a physical test to ensure the RPE worn fits correctly. Negative pressure RPE relies on a tight seal around the nose and mouth to provide protection. Everyone wearing tight fitting RPE must be fit tested.

Not every type of RPE is suitable for every person due to different sizes and builds.

No, the fit test is specific to the product you have been tested with. If you change your tight fitting RPE you will need to be tested again. Significant changes to face shape such as weight loss, dental work etc. will necessitate face fit testing again to ensure continued compliance.

No, loose fitting RPE does not need to be fit tested as it relies on a flow of air rather than a tight seal to keep contaminants out.

FFP stands for Filtering Face Piece and the number relates to how efficient it is at trapping particles. Therefore, a FFP3 mask will trap smaller particles than a FFP1 mask, thereby giving greater protection. The EN 149 standard is a European standard available to show that the masks protect against dust, mist, or fibres.

No, it will only protect against particles, if your hazard is a vapour or gas you will need different protection. If you are unsure, seek professional help.

In a pre-COVID world, more Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) was available either valved or un-valved. The majority of RPE currently available, during this pandemic, is now un-valved, in order to reduce the likelihood of the transmission of the virus.

The addition of a valve on RPE has been to provide additional comfort to the wearer. The valve is an exhalation valve, so releases the moisture within the mask, into the environment, when breathing out, to increase the wearer comfort.

Having a valve doesn’t change the protection level of RPE, a valved P3 mask offers the same particulate protection as an un-valved P3 mask.

However, in light of the current pandemic, where we are trying to prevent the transmission of the virus, you would need to refer to your COVID-19 risk assessment to determine whether valved RPE is suitable, and the safest option, for your workplace environment, as COVID Illnesses from workplace exposure are RIDDOR reportable.

With the implementation of face coverings/masks being mandatory in many areas, some face coverings/masks, are now also including valves. Again, this is for comfort, which can be understood as coverings can be hot and uncomfortable. However, is this the safest option?

Again, the valve increases comfort by releasing the moisture from our breath to outside the covering/mask. The exact reason we are encouraged to wear face coverings is to limit the transmission of the virus, from person to person, so you would need to ask yourself, is having a valve on a face covering the safest thing to wear?