A tragic case has highlighted why it is so important to ensure that respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is fitted correctly.
As part of a recent investigation, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) 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 death of FGH radiographer Simon Guest from the virus in April 2020.
Morecambe Bay Trust was given formal written advice after it was found that not everyone 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.
The Approved Code of Practice for COSHH 2002 requires that tight fitting RPE should be fit tested as part of the selection process, to ensure there is an adequate seal between the selected RPE and the wearer’s face.
An inadequate fit will significantly reduce the protection provided to the wearer.
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.
The HSE will take enforcement action where it finds a duty holder has not taken the necessary steps to ensure proper fit testing is conducted.
What is RPE?
The two main types of RPE are respirators and breathing apparatus.
Respirators are filtering devices. They use filters to remove contaminants from the air being breathed in.
They can be non-powered respirators and rely on the wearer’s breathing to draw air through the filter or powered respirators which use a motor to pass air through the filter to give a supply of clean air.
Breathing apparatus needs a supply of breathing-quality air from an independent source.
Respirators and BA are available in a range of styles and are divided into two main groups – tight-fitting facepieces and loose-fitting facepieces.
Tight-fitting facepieces are often referred to as masks and rely on having a good seal with the wearer’s face. As we’ve seen from this sad case, a face fit test should be carried out to ensure the mask can protect the wearer.
Loose-fitting facepieces, such as hoods, helmets, visors and suits, rely on enough clean air being provided to the wearer to prevent contaminant leaking in.
Who should use RPE?
RPE should be used whenever someone might breathe in contaminated air – despite other controls being in place such as extraction systems.
You should wear RPE if short-term or infrequent exposure to contaminated air would make using other controls impractical.
You should wear RPE whilst you are putting in other controls to manage contaminated air.
RPE should be used to help people safely exit premises in an emergency and during emergency work or when there has been a temporary failure in the other controls.
RPE should also be used by trained personnel during emergency rescues.
How do I choose the right RPE?
When choose RPE you should think about who is using it, their task and the environment they are working in.
The HSE publishes a lot of information to help you make the right decision, including a flow chart which takes you through the process and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Essential Guidance Publications.
When you have chosen your RPE you would also be advised to see the HSE’s guidance on RPE fit testing to make sure you are fitting it correctly.
Where can I go for help?
We understand that making decisions on what type of RPE is needed can be quite daunting.
As this sad case shows, even organisations which are highly health and safety conscious – such as NHS trusts – can fall foul of health and safety law.
Fortunately, our management team has more than 60 years of experience so we can relieve you of the stress of managing your health and safety obligations by providing you with a streamlined and comprehensive support service.
Our team is highly qualified and because we are one of the few fully independent health, safety and CDM consultancies we can strategise with you, recommend solutions that we know will work best for your business and have access to the whole of the market when it comes to delivering truly impartial advice.
If you need advice about RPE or support with any other aspect of health and safety don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.