Are Your Workplace’s Respiratory Protection Programmes Robust Enough?
Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of staff should always be a priority for employers, particularly in the area of respiratory protection. Respirable hazards and toxic substances pose a significant risk to workers' health if preventative measures are not implemented. Employers must, therefore, establish robust Respiratory Protection Programmes (RPPs) that prevent employees from inhaling respirable hazards and ensure they have access to respiratory protective equipment (RPE) – and, crucially, know how to use it.
In this article, we will explore the key principles of a robust Respiratory Protection Programme.
What Are The Key Principles Of A Respiratory Protection Programme?
RPPs provide a structured approach to protect employees from respiratory illnesses caused by workplace hazards, such as dust, fumes, mists, and vapours. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 12,000 workers die every year as a result of lung disease caused by workplace exposure to hazardous substances.
Are RPPs Compulsory?
Because of the risk that respirable hazards pose, RPPs are mandated by the HSE. UK law requires employers to implement effective measures to prevent or control the exposure of employees to dangerous substances; therefore, compliance is imperative to ensure the safety of your workforce and avoid prosecution.
So, what steps do you need to take to implement an effective RPP?
1. Identify The Respiratory Hazards In The Workplace
Firstly, you should identify the respiratory hazards in your workplace and assess the risk. This process involves conducting detailed workplace assessments to identify as accurately as possible what substances might be present AND then quantify (if possible) how much of those substances are your staff potentially exposed to. This may require monitoring of air quality and an analysis of the tasks your staff perform. Only then can you ascertain the RISK.
2. Follow The Hierarchy Of Controls
If the presence of anything hazardous is identified then every effort should be made (as far as reasonably practicable) to eliminate, substitute or control. Where this is not achievable or if the level of control is not sufficient then the use of personal protective equipment, PPE will be required – but this should always be a last resort!
3. Choose The Correct Type Of Respirator For Each Workplace Activity
Understanding the nature of the risks will empower employers to determine the appropriate type of respirator for each worker, tailored to their specific needs and the hazards they face.
Selecting the correct respirator type is a critical aspect. Different respirators provide contrasting levels of protection against specific hazards, so it’s essential to consider the type and concentration of contaminants, environmental conditions, work activities and duration of exposure. Additionally, if tight-fitting respirators are selected, employers should conduct Face Fit testing to ensure that the selected respirator fits each individual properly. Poorly fitting respirators will reduce their effectiveness and even render some completely ineffective.
4. Provide Expert Respiratory Protective Equipment Training
Once appropriate respirators have been selected, employers must train their staff in their proper use, maintenance, and storage. Employees must understand the hazards to which they are potentially being exposed and know how to properly protect themselves. They should be able to identify if a respirator is functioning correctly and note if it is failing. Correct donning and doffing procedures should be understood and followed to ensure risks of cross-contamination are avoided, including after-use care and cleaning of respirators as required. Regular refresher training should be conducted to keep employees up to date with best practices and any changes in workplace hazards or health and safety regulations.
5. Arrange Regular RPE Maintenance And Servicing
Regular maintenance and inspections of respirators will ensure that they provide optimum protection and are unlikely to fail when used in hazardous conditions. Third-party professional independent inspections and tests using manufacture-approved testing equipment, spares and replacement parts will help ensure the performance of equipment is maintained.
A programme of service and maintenance should specify:
- Protocols for cleaning, sanitising, and inspecting respirators to ensure that they remain in excellent working condition.
- Employees’ responsibilities for promptly reporting issues or malfunctions.
- How employers will keep detailed records of fit testing, training, maintenance, and inspections to demonstrate compliance and monitor the effectiveness of the RPP.
Find Out More
Respiratory protection is of the utmost importance in safeguarding the health and wellbeing of your employees. As an industry leader in RPE servicing and maintenance, Fire Safe International can help your organisation to meet its legal obligations by ensuring your protective equipment is in optimum condition.
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