Respirators provide protection against exposure to potentially harmful substances in the workplace, such as dusts, mists, fumes, gases and vapours.

The use of respiratory protection equipment is governed by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (2002) and the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations (1992). Respirators are required in the workplace when the concentration of a substance in the atmosphere makes the environment uncomfortable or when the level of a substance exceeds that specified by the Health and Safety Executive workplace exposure limits.

The failure to provide respiratory protection or the appropriate type of respirator can lead to serious injuries and even fatalities, and can have severe legal and reputational consequences for employers. Therefore, it is essential that your employees are provided with the correct respiratory protection.

There is a wide range of respiratory protection available for a variety of jobs. The use of workplace respirators is controlled by a number of industry safety standards. This guide provides an explanation of these standards and the performance you can expect from the respiratory protection tested to these standards, and advice on how to choose the correct workplace respiratory protection.

Overall, this guide is designed to allow you to make an informed decision about the workplace respiratory protection you need to provide for your employees for the tasks that they undertake.


When you are purchasing respiratory protection for your workforce, it is recommended that you refer to a recent risk assessment of the workplace environments in which your employees are working. If a risk assessment does not exist, one should be carried out.

Taking this step provides a clear understanding of the hazards that you need the respiratory protection that you choose to protect against. This will allow you to select the appropriate respiratory protection and will ensure that you comply with all the relevant health and safety rules and other industry regulations.

Hazards relating to workplace respiratory protection are:

  • Dusts: Dusts are created when solid materials are broken down into fine particles. The smaller the dust, the greater the hazard.
  • Mists: Mists are tiny liquid droplets that are formed by atomisation and condensation processes such as spraying.
  • Fumes: Fumes are created when materials are vaporised at high temperature. The vapour is cooled quickly and condenses into extremely fine particles.
  • Gases: Gases are airborne materials that are created at high temperatures and can travel very far, extremely quickly.
  • Vapours: Vapours are the gaseous state of substances that are either liquid or solid at room temperature. They are created through the process of evaporation.


A wide range of workplace respiratory protection is available. The main types of respiratory protection are:

  • Unpowered disposable filtering half-mask respirators
  • Unpowered half-face respirators
  • Unpowered full-face respirators
  • Powered half-face respirators
  • Powered full-face respirators
  • Helmets, hoods and visors

The terminology used for this respiratory protection includes:

  • Air-purifying respirators
  • Asbestos respirators
  • Chemical respirators
  • Elastomeric respirators
  • Hepa respirators
  • Particulate respirators
  • Spray paint respirators
  • Welding respirators
  • Woodworking respirators


The use of workplace respirators is controlled by a number of industry safety standards. These standards are:

Key industry standards


There are three protection classes of EN 149:2001+A1:2009-certified disposable dust respirators: FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3.

  • FFP1 disposable dust respirators have a filtering capacity of at least 80% and filter to a level up to four times the allowable workplace exposure limit.
  • FFP2 disposable dust respirators have a filtering capacity of at least 94% and provide suitable protection against smoke, particles and dust that are noxious or harmful to health. This type of respirator filters to a level up to 10 times the allowable workplace exposure limit.
  • FFP3 disposable dust respirators have a filtering capacity of at least 99%, providing the highest level of protection. This type of respirator filters to a level up to 30 times the allowable workplace exposure limit and protects against hazardous fine particles, dusts and smoke.


To ensure that the correct respiratory protection is chosen for employees, employers should use the following four-step process:

  1. Identify the hazards that your employees will face in the workplace
  2. Determine the level of hazard and the potential risks related to exposure
  3. Choose the appropriate workplace respiratory protection
  4. Provide training in the fitting and use of the workplace respiratory protection

How to choose the correct workplace disposable dust respirator

Disposable dust respirators are one of most commonly used types of workplace respiratory protection. The following eight-step method can be used to ensure that the correct dust respirator is chosen for employees:

  1. Identify the name and form of the workplace contaminant
  2. Determine the potential risks related to exposure to the contaminant
  3. Identify specific regulations, approved codes of practice and guidance notes that apply to the contaminant
  4. Find out the Health and Safety Executive workplace exposure limit relevant to the contaminant (mg per cubic metre and/or ppm) – see Health and Safety Executive guidance note EH40/2005
  5. Identify the airborne concentration of the contaminant (mg per cubic metre and/or ppm)
  6. Determine the nature and length of the exposure
  7. Determine the level of respiratory protection required by dividing the time-weighted average airborne concentration by the Health and Safety Executive workplace exposure limit
  8. Choose the appropriate respiratory protection by selecting a respirator that has a protection level higher than the required level of protection

Below is an example of how to calculate Occupational Exposure Limit

Respiratory Protection factors


There are a wide range of respirator filters that can be used with workplace respiratory protection equipment. The following is a guide to choosing the correct respirator filter for your respiratory protection equipment.

Respiratory protection substances and filters

Note: Many of these filters can be used with filtering devices that rely on the breathing action of the wearer (negative pressure devices) and powered devices. Filters may carry two sets of classification, one for negative pressure devices and another for powered devices. The powered device marking is not relevant when used with negative pressure devices and vice versa.
Source: Health and Safety Authority

The following table provides further information on the respirator filters you need when working with common chemicals. The list below is not exhaustive, if the chemicals relevant to your workplace are not included please contact Contego Safety Solutions for access to our full chemical database and our expert assistance.

Contego Chemical Names


Employees must be medically fit to wear respiratory protection. Respirators can be uncomfortable to wear, in particular for extended periods of time.

It is important that employees wear respirators all the time that they are carrying out their designated jobs and do not remove their respiratory protection until they have moved away from the contaminated air.

Respiratory protection fit testing

Respiratory protection, in particular tight-fitting respirators, must fit well. If a respirator does not fit well, it will not provide the necessary level of protection, no longer complying with the relevant industry standard and putting the wearer at risk.

According to Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, employers must carry out fit testing of tight-fitting respirators to detect leaks through face seals. This quantitative fit testing should be conducted by a person trained in respiratory protection fit testing using specialised equipment.

In addition, employees must check the fit every time they put on their respiratory protection, even if they regularly use the same piece of respiratory equipment. Weight gain or loss and facial changes, such as scars and moles, can make it necessary to alter the fit. In cases where respirators are reliant on face seals, wearers cannot have facial hair or stubble because the seal will not work properly.

This qualitative fit testing to detect leaks through face seals can be carried out using a specialised face fit test kit.

If the user becomes aware of any breakthrough of any contaminant at any time they should safely remove themselves from the area and replace the filter.

Respiratory protection training

Employers must ensure that employees have received training on how to check that their respirators are operating correctly before they put them on, on how to check that their respirators fit properly and on how to replace worn or damaged parts.

Employees should also be made aware of the need to throw away single-use respirators and how to do this correctly, and of how to act should they believe that their respirator is no longer working properly (including leaving the work area immediately).


It is important to note that once a contaminant comes into contact with the filter, the contaminant will continue to break down the charcoal element of the filter- even when not in use. We would therefore suggest that most filters are changed after a single shift. This will of course depend on the type and duration of exposure during a typical shift.


It is important that workplace respiratory protection equipment is maintained properly.

If not maintained properly, respirators that protect employees against contaminants in the workplace may not comply with the relevant industry standard and may put the wearer at risk.

Inspecting and testing respiratory protection

According to Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations, all workplace respirators must be examined on a monthly basis. This maintenance must include a check of all valves and face seals, which must be replaced if found to be worn or damaged. All worn or damaged parts must be replaced.

Valves may need to be changed more frequently on respirators that are in contact with certain substances, such as paint from a spray system. Respirator filters must be changed regularly. In the case of air-fed respirators, air-purity testing must also be carried out.

All respirator maintenance records should be kept for a minimum of five years.

Cleaning and storing respiratory protection

All respiratory protection must be kept clean and in good working order. Cleaning should always be carried out in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Respirators should be stored in a safe place where there is no risk of contamination and the expiry dates of all respiratory protection equipment and filters should be regularly checked. It is recommended that a small stock of replaceable parts is always held.


The information contained in this workplace respiratory protection guide is designed to help you choose the right type of respiration protection when placing an order for your workforce.

Different tasks require different types of respiratory protection and it is important that your employees are provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment. You should always base your choice of respiratory protection on the most severe hazard that your employees will face.

By using this information and taking these steps, you will ensure that your company is fully compliant with all the relevant industry standards and that your employees can do their jobs safely, efficiently and to the highest standard.



The friendly and expert team at Contego Safety Solutions is always on hand to give advice and guidance on the right PPE and protective clothing for your needs. Contact us now on 0800 122 3323 or to discuss your requirements.

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