Respiratory Protective Equipment

Respiratory Protection Guide

respiratory protection guide RPE

For a more detailed outline on RPE, including class tables, a defect checklist and information on cleaning and disinfecting, see the ProChoice Respiratory Protection Safety Guide.

Breathing may be something you do without thinking, however protecting you or your workers with the appropriate respiratory protective equipment (RPE) should be top of mind.

The high exposure levels to airborne carcinogens such as wood and cement dust in construction and agricultural industries and the resurgence of black lung in Queensland miners are some examples of why it is critical that RPE is fit for purpose.

Australian Standards state that where RPE is required, a respiratory protection program must be established and should take into account the selection, use and maintenance of RPE.

Of course, PPE is the last line of defence in the hierarchy of control and more effective strategies, such as hazard elimination or engineering controls should – where possible – always be implemented before and in conjunction with RPE.

But even with other controls in place, RPE is critical.


When selecting the appropriate RPE, the contaminant, task and operator should all be considered.


Respiratory hazards are placed in the following categories:

Hazard Sub-types Examples
Particulate contaminants Dusts/fibres – Solid particles from crushing, cutting, sanding, etc.

Mists – Airborne droplets of liquid from condensation or splashing, spraying, atomising, etc.

Fumes – Fine particles often associated with molten metal.

Cement dust, sulphur, coal, wood dust, asbestos, cotton dust, clay, ferrous metals (steel, stainless steel, cast iron).

Oil mists from cutting and grinding, acid mists from electroplating and pickling operations, fog and paint mists from water condensation.

Welding, soldering, brazing, bushing fire smoke.

Gaseous or vapour contaminants


Vapours – Gaseous form of a substance normally solid or liquid at room temperature.

Nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide.

Methylene chloride, toluene, mineral spirits.

Deficiency of oxygen    

Source: ProChoice Respiratory Protection Safety Guide. See guide for more detail.

Two main types of RPE exist: those that purify (filter) air and those that supply air.

In the case of filters for particulate and gas/vapour contaminants, it is important to match the class of filter to the hazard, as well as the level of contaminant in the environment.

The Minimum Protection Factor (MPF) is the factor needed to reduce a worker’s contaminant exposure to an acceptable level as determined by Australian exposure standards. This can be found using the equation:

Required MPF = Ambient Airborne Concentration of Contaminant

                                      Acceptable Exposure Level or Standard

Determining the MPF will help direct you to the appropriate level of protection within an RPE class. Class information can be found in the standards or in the ProChoice guide.

All RPE must comply with the Australian Standards, however products which have been through an independent certification process provide greater peace of mind to users. Look for a certification mark, such as the SAI Global ‘five ticks’ logo found on many ProChoice products.


The type of task will also affect the choice of RPE. The wrong RPE could create more risks than it prevents.

With that in mind, here are some questions to consider when assessing the task:

  • Will the RPE be for regular or emergency use? Comfort and convenience will be more important for regular use RPE.
  • How much mobility is required to complete the task? The use of an air line or air hose may restrict mobility.
  • Does the task require strenuous activity? Negative pressure RPE may decrease the user’s performance due to physiological load.
  • What restrictions on vision does the RPE pose? How important is peripheral vision to the task?
  • How important is clear communication to the task? Does the RPE restrict this?

Availability, organisation and resource requirements for supply, use and maintenance of RPE should also be considered.


A medical evaluation of the operator should take place before the issue of any equipment to determine the psychological and physiological appropriateness of RPE.

The ability of the operator to bear the load of the respirator should be taken into account, particularly in hot environments or when undertaking strenuous activity.

Use / Fit

RPE is only effective when it is worn correctly each time there is a risk of exposure.

While selecting the appropriate RPE is vital, ensuring that it is comfortable and correctly fitted is equally critical for effective use and for encouraging wear. Facial fit testing is mandated as part of respiratory protection programs under the Australian Standard.

Fit testing should be carried out before issue and before each use, as well as at regular intervals throughout the year and whenever there is a change of facial characteristics in the wearer. Click through for a detailed Guide to Fit Testing Respiratory Masks.


Maintenance of RPE should include regular inspections to check for defects. Damaged equipment should be replaced immediately.

A filter replacement schedule should be put in place based on advice from the manufacturer and an OHS specialist. Gas filters should be replaced every six months at minimum.

Regular cleaning and disinfecting of RPE should be undertaken.

RPE should be stored according to manufacturer instructions in a clean and dry place, but readily available to encourage use.

For more information, including RPE class tables, a defect checklist and information on cleaning and disinfecting, see the ProChoice Respiratory Protection Training Guide.

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