Latest regulations, industry case studies and unbiased articles written by experts
Latest regulations, news and unbiased articles written by experts
The best articles written by experts
The Journal for Employee Protection
  • Latest Issue
  • Trending
  • Press
  • Videos
  • Events

Respiratory Hazards

Defending against the hazards of contaminated air

When the very air that we breathe is contaminated how can we protect ourselves and defend against its hazards?

The most important defence against respiratory hazards is to control the contamination at source and stop it entering the air in the first instance. This however, does not provide the solution to all circumstances and when it does not it will be necessary to use respiratory protective equipment.

Hazardous substances that can contaminate the air include dust, gases, fumes, mist, vapours, and smoke. Inhaling such contaminants can cause damage to many parts of the body including most commonly the nervous system, lungs, nose and throat. In some cases they can trigger allergic reactions such as asthma when inhaled. Oxygen-deficient atmospheres (i.e. when oxygen concentration in the air falls below 17%), also present an unacceptable hazard.

Occasionally work needs to be carried out in conditions that are described as being Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) and can occur when toxic chemicals, gases or particles are present or when there is a deficiency of oxygen. In such situations, individuals can be quickly overcome, are unable to effect an escape and could suffer severe and/or irreversible damage.

There are two ways to protect against such hazards. The first is to control the contamination at source and prevent it from entering the air in the first place. This can involve isolating the hazard, enclosing the function that is generating the contamination, ventilating the contaminated area and maintaining these systems to ensure they remain effective. In the situation that the source of contamination cannot be eliminated then the second method of protection is the use of respiratory protective equipment. Whilst this is often considered a last resort it is particularly practical when access to the contaminated area is needed for short periods of time or in emergency situations. Respiratory protective equipment suitable for these types of situations include masks, respirators, air-fed systems and self contained breathing apparatus.

Respiratory protection for fighting fires

As statistics show that three out of four fire fatalities are caused by smoke inhalation, it is essential that respiratory protective equipment is worn when firefighters are subjected to or enter a hostile environment were chemical fumes, dust, fire, deficiency of oxygen or other respiratory hazards are expected. In most instances these will be life threatening situations and the protection afforded to the rescue personnel attending must be the very best available.

The protection factors provided by different types of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) are stated in BS EN 529:2005; Guide to implementing an effective respiratory device programme. As we face the increasing threat of terrorism, manufacturers and standards bodies are exploring ways to develop products capable of countering the types of hazards the modern firefighters and emergency response teams can expect to encounter, such as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents.

The fire and rescue service will predominately utilise Respiratory Protective Equipment conforming to EN 137, self contained open circuit compressed air breathing apparatus. This consists of a single unit covering the eyes, nose and mouth area allowing the operative to communicate and move without compromising the level of protection. As with all protective equipment it is important that the compressed air cylinder aspect of the apparatus does not limit the firefighter in terms of weight or design and hinder them from operations. The apparatus must be capable of performing in all orientations.

Appropriate current specifications include:
EN 140: 1999 Respiratory protective devices. Half masks and quarter masks. Requirements, testing, marking. Replaces BS 7356: 1990
EN 14387: 2004 Respiratory protective devices. Gas filters and combined filters. Requirements, testing, marking
EN 143: 2000 Respiratory protective devices. Particle filters. Requirements, testing, marking
EN 149: 2001 Respiratory protection devices. Filtering half masks to protect against particles. Requirements, testing, marking for filtering half masks for protection of the respiratory tract against particles
EN 12941: 1998 Respiratory protection devices. Powered filtering devices incorporating a helmet or hood. Requirements, testing, marking. Replaces BS EN 146: 1992
EN 12942: 1999 Respiratory protection devices. Power assisted filtering devices incorporating fullface masks, half masks or quarter masks. Requirements, testing, marking. Replaces BS EN 147: 1992
EN 14594: 2005 Respiratory protection devices. Light duty compressed air line breathing apparatus incorporating a helmet or hood. Requirements, testing, marking
EN 405: 2002 Respiratory protection devices. Valved filtering half masks to protect against gases or gases and particles. Requirements, testing, marking
EN 14594:2005 Respiratory protection devices. Compressed air line breathing apparatus incorporating a hood. Requirements, testing, marking. Replaces BS 4667: Part 3: 1974
EN 136: 1998 Respiratory protection devices. Full face masks. Requirements, testing, marking. Replaces BS 7355: 1990 and BS EN 136-10: 1992
EN 137:2006 Respiratory protection devices. Self contained open circuit compressed air breathing apparatus. Requirements, testing, marking. Replaces BS 7004: 1988
EN 138:1994(2000) Respiratory protection devices. Fresh air hose breathing apparatus for use with full face mask, half mask or mouthpiece assembly. Replaces BS 4667: Part 3: 1974
BS EN 14594:2005 Respiratory protection devices. Continuous flow compressed air line breathing apparatus Requirements, testing, marking. Replaces BS EN 139:1995, BS EN 270:1995, BS EN 271:1995, BS EN 1835:2000 and BS EN 12419:1999. Product Type Standard/Class Assigned (if applicable) Prot


Sign up for the HSI newsletter. Recieve articles, regulation updates and more...

Product Type Standard Class Assigned Protection Factor
Disposable face masks EN 149/FFPI 4
Full face mask with P3 filter EN 136 & EN 143 40
Continuous flow compressed air line breathing apparatus EN 14594 40
Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) EN 137 2000

Following the rules

Anyone who comes into contact with hazards affecting the respiratory system should be aware of the need to use the appropriate form of protective equipment and employers certainly must heed the practices laid down in their health and safety policies and those set out in the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992. Specific regulations also exist to address particular issues about personal protective needs. Currently these include The Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999, The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 and The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended).

The PPE Directive and what it means

Working in hazardous environments means you must consider personal protection. The risks involved in operating in a hazardous atmosphere, fighting fires, handling hazardous substances or attending emergency situations are such that there is always a potential risk to those who perform these tasks. As such the need for personal protective equipment is critical and should therefore be of the very highest quality.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is defined as ‘any device to be worn or held by an individual for protection against one or more health and safety hazards’. The regulations also apply to any system placed on the market in conjunction with PPE for its connection to another external, additional device.

Protective equipment is expected to be safe and fit for its stated purpose. Manufacturers, distributors, legislators and users alike demand this minimum expectation. The industry-wide commitment to responsible manufacturing is supported and governed by a range of standards and regulations, eg the Personal Protective Equipment Directive (89/686/EEC).

Before purchasing any PPE, specifiers should consult the ‘Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992’. The regulations contain 14 regulations for employers to consider as part of their pre-purchase risk assessment. Purchasing to a standard does not necessarily satisfy all of the requirements of Regulation 6 Assessment of PPE. A guide entitled “A short guide to the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992” is available from the HSE to assist with appropriate selection.

The PPE Directive became law on 1 January 1995 with a two year transition period for equipment manufacturers to adapt and implement the new requirements. For PPE products to be sold within the European Economic Area (EEA) they must be CE marked. The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 (SI 1996/3039) contain the enforcement powers extended to Trading Standards departments.

Failure to comply with these regulations may mean that PPE may be prohibited from being placed on the EEA market. It should also be noted that if the product is placed on the market in non-compliance, the CE Mark for the product may be withdrawn.

There are a few exemptions within the PPE Directive relating to equipment specifically for the armed forces, PPE for self defence (aerosol canisters, etc) and helmets and visors for two or three wheeled vehicle users. The PPE Directive breaks the certification of personal protective products into three categories:

  • PPE of simple design - defined as ‘products where the designer assumes that the user can himself assess the level of protection provided against the minimal risks concerned, the affects of which, when they are gradual, can be safely identified by the user in good time’ - for example gardening gloves, thimbles, etc
  • PPE of intermediate design - product that is of neither simple nor complex design - for example most forms of eye protection
  • PPE of complex design - defined as products the design of which is ‘intended to protect against mortal danger or against dangers that may seriously and irreversibly harm health, the immediate effects of which the designer assumes the user cannot identify in sufficient time’ - for example, respiratory protective devices, such as SCBA, chemical suits, and fall arrest equipment

Simple design PPE

In all cases manufacturer can ‘self certify’ their products.

Intermediate and complex design PPE For equipment that is in the complex category the manufacturer is required to have a CE Type Examination conducted by a Notified Body. The manufacturer must ensure that its products conform to either the relevant harmonised European standard (BS, EN, ISO) or a technical specification deemed to be appropriate by a Notified Body. It is important to note that products marked with a BS or BS EN standard reference have not necessarily been tested by the British Standards Institution.

The CE marking process requires the manufacturer to submit samples for test to a Notified Body, such as BSI and they must produce their own ‘declaration of production conformity’. All of this must be reviewed and deemed acceptable before the Notified Body approves the use of the CE mark. In addition to this complex category equipment will require ongoing monitoring of production and products will then be subjected to regular testing to ensure continued conformance.

The CE mark is a product conformity mark; it is not a product quality mark and should not be interpreted as such.

Notified Body and Competent Body Status

BSI Product Services is a Notified Body for the Personal Protective Equipment Directive 89/686/EEC. BSI is actively involved as a Notified Body in eight main areas of PPE testing, Kitemark certification and CE marking namely hearing protection, respiratory protective devices, eye protection, head protection, footwear, gloves, protective clothing and high visibility garments.

The Kitemark®

The Kitemark, British Standards Institution’s certification trademark, is a voluntary quality mark that is issued under licence by BSI. The Kitemark can be achieved for a wide range of personal protective equipment. This requires a manufacturer to have a comprehensive quality management system, based on ISO 9001: 2000 combined with initial product type testing and regular audit testing. Once achieved, the Kitemark can serve as an enhanced marketing tool in a competitive market, by demonstrating an ongoing commitment to quality and safety.

A Kitemark scheme can be developed using a publicly available specification. This specification can either be a BS, EN, ISO or a trade association specification. Based on this specification BSI produce a formal protocol that is verified by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).

What are the differences between the CE Mark and the Kitemark?

The CE mark and Kitemark are not identical; one does not supersede the other. The Kitemark compliments the CE mark. While the CE mark is the minimum legal requirement for Europe, the Kitemark offers an additional programme of continual compliance monitoring of product and quality systems and thus gives peace of mind. Kitemark schemes are voluntary and as such they demonstrate that the manufacturer has made a commitment to producing safe, quality products time after time. It therefore offers a level of reassurance above the minimum legal requirements of the CE mark.

Testing and certifying respiratory protective equipment

To ensure that the PPE products you want to use are “fit for purpose” they can be tested to varying levels by independent testing bodies such as BSI Product Services.

BSI Product Services, as part of the world renowned BSI Group, has been testing and certifying PPE for over 40 years and is a Notified Body for the PPE Directive and more than 16 other Directives. As an independent organisation impartiality is one of the key strengths affording their clients a real business asset. Expert and experienced staff test and certify respiratory protective equipment to a wide range of standards in dedicated UKAS accredited laboratories on site in the UK. These standards can include British (BS), European (EN) and International (ISO) or manufacturer’s technical specifications.

Typical tests performed include:

  • Breathing resistance
  • Filter penetration (solids)
  • Filter penetration (liquids)
  • Total Inward Leakage (TIL)
  • CO 2 build up
  • Flammability
  • Dust clogging
  • Field of vision
  • Mechanical strength testing
  • Practical performance testing
  • Visor robustness
  • Inhalation/exhalation valve tests
  • Air supply
  • Checking and warning facilities
  • Electrical components
  • Noise level
  • Strength of couplings
  • Resistance to collapse of breathing hoses
  • Resistance to thermal radiation
  • Head harness effectiveness
  • Leak tightness
  • Cleaning and disinfecting

Where respiratory protective equipment incorporates headwear, eyewear or hearing protection BSI is able to offer an integrated test and assessment service. When the products incorporate electronic devices the necessary additional assessments can be conducted in BSI’s comprehensively equipped Electro Magnetic Compatibility and/or Electrical Safety laboratories thus providing the ability to fully test the multiple varieties of state of the art respiratory protective equipment.

Typical products tested and/or certified at BSI Product Services include:

  • Disposable filtering half masks
  • Gas and combined filters
  • Particle filters
  • Filtering quarter, half and full face pieces
  • Supplied air (powered) face pieces, hoods and helmets
  • Compressed air escape sets
  • Re-breather escape sets
  • Compressed Air supplied equipment
  • Self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA)
  • Protective suits with integral respiratory protection
  • Escape hoods
  • Bespoke products

Published: 10th Sep 2007 in Health and Safety International

Share this article with your friends
Respiratory Hazards
By Claire Lynam
Respiratory Respite
By Claire Lynam
Keeping Your Head - Intact
By Claire Lynam