Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is designed to protect against harmful substances that can enter the airways during specific tasks or in hazardous environments. These substances, dependent on what they are, can cause anything from minor irritation to internalised burns and corrosion of the throat or lungs. A respirator or safety mask is the best way you can provide respiratory protection.
Where a respiratory risk is present in the workplace, safety measures must be put in place to remove it, or at least reduce it as far as possible. If the risk is still present after all safety measures have been implemented, then employers are required by law to provide RPE that meets the correct standard for protecting their employees from the remaining risk.
Filtering facepieces are a form of RPE that protect against respirable dust, smoke, and aqueous fog (aerosols). This style of respiratory protection does not offer protection from vapour and gas. The capability of this form of protection has its own unique classes that define their ability to protect against hazards.
Filtering Face Piece (FFP) Protection Classes:
This classifying system consists of three levels: FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 face masks. A filtering facepiece will be categorised and marked according to the level of protection it provides, FFP1 face masks being the ‘least’ protective and FFP3 masks being the ‘most’.
The function and standard of the FFP classes conform to the standards and outlines of EN 149—covered in more depth below.
Before we move on to the FFP face mask classes, it is useful to understand the following:
Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL): OELs are standards that determine the amount, or concentration, of a hazardous substance allowable in the workplace air.
Assigned Protection Factor (APF): The APF of a safety mask indicates how well it protects the wearer from hazardous substances. A safety mask with an APF of 4 will reduce the concentration of the hazardous substance in the air that is breathed by the wearer by 4 times.
FFP1 face masks give the minimum level of respiratory protection against non-toxic particulates. Dependent on the hazard, this standard of the safety mask can be completely capable.
FFP1 masks contain the least amount of filter material so provide the least breathing resistance. An exhalation valve is often not required.
FFP1 masks can protect against brick dust, cellulose, cement, coal dust, gypsum, limestone, Plaster of Paris, pollen and sugar. This type of safety mask should filter a minimum of 75% of the substance.
These substances are not toxic or fibrogenic but can cause irritation in the airways with adverse long-term effects. FFP1 face masks should not be used for materials outside of those listed above, and higher protection should be used in poisonous, toxic or more hazardous environments.
These safety masks will be rated an APF of 4x OEL.
FFP2 face masks offer a moderate level of protection against hazardous mists, particulates and fumes.
Exhalation valves are more common in FFP2 masks as there is greater breathing resistance. Exhalation valves also help to reduce the build-up of heat inside the safety mask, improving the comfort for the wearer.
FFP2 masks protect against brake dust, cotton dust, granite dust, hay, lead dust and fume and softwood dust.
FFP2 respirator masks are made for working environments in which deleterious and mutagenic particles can be found in the breathing air. They are most commonly used in the metal and mining industry. Without conformant safety face masks, workers exposed to the above hazards can develop lung cancer and Tuberculosis (TB).
These masks will be rated an APF of 10x OEL.
FFP3 masks provide the highest level of respiratory protection that a disposable mask can offer. A well-fitting FFP3 mask can protect users against fine toxic particulates including asbestos, bacteria, viruses and radioactive particles. Asbestos masks are particularly important to where in an environment where asbestos particles are present as these are carcinogenic.
The filter material for this standard is so thick that an exhalation valve is almost always fitted. FFP3 face masks are often used in the chemistry industry due to the usage of contaminants and hazardous materials.
These safety masks will be rated an APF of 20x OEL.
Why respiratory protection is important
Respiratory protection is important because employee health shouldn’t ever be compromised in the workplace. Small irritation can lead to soft tissue damage and can go as far as lung failure and cancers.
Inhalation disorders can lead to 12,000 deaths each year due to occupational respiratory disease and about two-thirds of these due to asbestos-related diseases or COPD. Asbestos masks could make a huge difference in preventing a significant number of deaths.
By meeting Standard EN 149 and ensuring employees are wearing RPE justified by the outlines of each FFP face mask standard, the risk is significantly lowered. Long-term injuries can lead to loss of staff, impactive downtimes and possible financial backlash.
Administering RPE isn’t just about having it available. Employers are only truly taking responsibility if their equipment meets the needs of their workplace environment, and they provide their employees with training on how to use the RPE correctly.
It’s also important to understand that even short-term exposure to hazardous substances can have lifelong detrimental effects. RPE should be applied before the hazard arises always. Don’t wait for a room to be filled with hazardous airborne particles before applying a safety mask.
By providing compliant respiratory protection, you improve the quality of life for your employees and also ensure compliance under the laws and regulations concerned with PPE in the workplace.
We specialise and take a passionate interest in providing comfortable, high-quality equipment that can satisfy consumers and legal bodies concerned with PPE. Our range of RPE conforms with the EN 149 Standard.
Written by the Technical Team at BETAFIT PPE Ltd.