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Understanding the risks from exposure and how to control these, including Respiratory Protective Equipment

​​​Work processes may involve the use of a variety of chemicals and substances that can create fumes, dusts and other substances.

Breathing in hazardous substances at work can put your employees' health at risk and may cause a range of respiratory diseases and conditions from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancers​. It can also cause other diseases of the airways and lungs, for example airway obstruction, bronchitis or lung cancers. As well as this, it can cause cancer in other parts of the body, nervous system diseases and disorders of reproductive organs.​

Use the links below to find information and resources on how to assess the risks to breathing, the equipment you can use and your legal duties.​​

  1. Common breathing hazards
  2. Precautions for breathing
  3. Respiratory protective equipment
  4. Legal duties to protect breathing

3. Respiratory protective equipment

​Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) are used in many workplaces to protect workers when working with hazardous substances. These include

  • gases
  • sprays
  • solvents
  • dusts.

RPE comes with various forms, such as

  • visors
  • hoods
  • masks
  • helmets.

The use of masks or respirators should not be the first or only precaution taken to protect your workforce. It is however a very good temporary precaution while you make arrangements for proper protection. You should take every other reasonable step to control the exposure and improve air quality and ventilation in your work area. 

Your justification for using RPE should be clear in your risk assessment, which needs to be written if you have five or more employees.

The equipment must fit the wearer and be the right type for the task, the substance and the work environment.

If using or selecting RPE, it is important to select the correct equipment and correct fit for the workers concerned. This will vary depending on the worker and the jobs they do. 

​Select the right RPE

You can use the RPE Selector Tool to determine what kind of equipment you or your employees will need for a hazardous substance, activity and work area involved.

Use the RPE selector tool​ ​​ ​

Types of RPE

Information on different types of RPE can be foundusing the links below. ​

​​Find out more

Watch the Clean Air? Take Care!’ campaign video to help you correctly select and use respirators. It provides a summary on selection and use of RPE at work.

Visit the dust hub​ on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) site.