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This article is intended to outline the role of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) in a risk control programme and to provide advice on the steps in setting up and implementing an effective RPE programme so that occupational physicians can check the effectiveness of any such programmes they may encounter.
Although the details of such a programme may depend on the requirements of national legislation, the general principles to be applied should be independent of local legislation. In this article the details of the programme are described in terms of UK legislation and guidance.
It should be noted that although all duties in the UK to prevent or control exposures to hazardous substances are to the limit of “reasonably practicable”, the corresponding duties under the European Directives, on which the UK legislation is nominally based, are to the limit of “technically feasible” and that the English Civil Court has judged that an employee can have a valid case against the UK government where he/she would have been protected by duties to the limit of “technically feasible” but not by the limit of “reasonably practicable”. It is therefore considered that it would be prudent for a reasonable employer to work to “technically feasible” rather than “reasonably practicable” where possible as action to “technically feasible” could be a valid defence in civil litigation.
Respiratory protective equipment is widely used to protect wearers against hazardous aerosols, gases, or vapours because it is perceived to provide effective and relatively inexpensive protection whereas preferred techniques, such as total enclosure, cannot be applied or are perceived to be expensive.
The major limitation of RPE is that the anticipated protection is achieved only if the equipment is worn correctly. In addition, RPE performance in the workplace is generally much poorer than suggested by standards or manufacturers’ literature. RPE …