Respiratory Protection Certification

This article on respiratory protection certification is specific to the Respiratory Protection category of PPE, and should be read in conjunction with the article on product testing and PPE CE marking. It sets out to provide an explanation of the mandatory European Legislative requirements to offer PPE Respiratory Protection.

It also sets out the Legal requirements relating to respiratory hazards in the workplace, and the obligations of all employers and employees, including the provision and use of the appropriate PPE.

Due to the range of hazards in this category, and the selection of devices required to deal with them, it is not possible to cover the entire spectrum in full detail within this article, as each carries with it its own complexities.

It is recommended that assistance for individual hazards should be sought, and this can be obtained from reputable distributors, often at no cost.

The Nature and Level of Respiratory Hazards

If an object falls on the head, or a particle gets in the eye then the result is immediate, and the hazard is easier to comprehend and therefore take appropriate action against.

respiratory-protection-certification-asbesos-workersRespiratory hazards are not so immediately obvious and can be more complex, therefore there are more demanding requirements to operate a workplace with such hazards. Note that this also forms a sensible basis for dealing with domestic respiratory hazards.

Most other European Norms deal with hazard types which are either present or not. Respiratory hazard is more complex in that not only must the presence of the hazard be identified, but also the nature and level of the hazard.

The task of PPE selection is also more complex due to the range of types of PPE required to deal with the broad range of hazards.

Respiratory hazards can take several forms:-

  • Dust, where airborne solid particles are present.
  • Mists, where minute droplets are present due to condensation or processes such as paint spraying.
  • Metal fumes, where airborne droplets of metals have vaporised and condensed after high temperature processing (e.g. welding).
  • Gases, which can be odourless and/or invisible, and spread readily in ambient air.
  • Anaerobic atmosphere, which means that even if a hazardous gas is removed, that there is insufficient air present to allow healthy respiration.
  • Vapours, which result from evaporation of solids or liquids at room temperature.

Each of these forms can constitute a simple risk, or much more seriously a mortal risk. None must be under-estimated. Even the most everyday hazards such as wood dust must be protected against. Sensitisation to a particular hazard can be a major issue.

Note that even if a worker has shown no symptoms of irritation following exposure over a long period of time, then out of the blue they can become sensitised. The regulations are intended to ensure that preventative action is taken to ensure this does not happen.

Some risks are non-life-threatening, however some can constitute mortal risk, either as a result of instantaneous exposure (e.g. toxic gases) or as a cumulative or delayed effect (eg asbestos).

These hazards should never be under-estimated, and where mortal risks are present then highly rigorous regimes of training, maintenance, enforcement and record keeping should be implemented and validated.

Respiratory Protection Legislation

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations set out the requirements for minimising hazardous risks. In all cases attempts should be made to remove or reduce the levels of hazard, for example via physical barriers or the installation of extraction equipment before considering the need for PPE.

COSHH regulations require that employers should:

  • Identify the hazard
  • Assess the concentration of the hazard
  • Measure the exposure levels, as part of risk assessments.
  • Provide only CE approved PPE
  • Establish a documented training program for all employees required to use respiratory PPE to ensure correct uptake, fitting, maintenance (including cleaning and replacement) and storage.

Assigned Protection Factors (APF’s) are denoted for all items of Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE). These indicate the level of protection that can be expected if the RPE is correctly fitted and fully functional when used by trained workers.

The APF indicates how much the hazard can (should) be reduced by when using this item of RPE. Examples might be an APF of 10 will reduce the hazard level inside the respirator to one tenth of what it is outside the respirator, or an APF of 4 will reduce the hazard level inside the respirator to one quarter of what it is outside the respirator.  The higher the APF the greater the level of protection provided.

Note that it cannot be simply assumed that the APF is being achieved, and training and routine checking of fitting (via face fit testing), cleaning and maintenance should be provided and documented. Note that workers with facial hair will derive lower protection due to compromise of the RPE seal around the face.

Note further that different combinations of RPE can produce different APF’s, so for example different combinations of filter cartridge can result in different APF’s whilst fitted to the same mask or headtop.

Respiratory hazards are sufficiently complex to seek external assistance from competent distributors, consultancies or agencies in order to ensure adequate protection for workers, as well as regulatory compliance. If an in-house competent person exists then equipment can be purchased to measure and analyse levels of hazard, and to conduct face fit testing.

Workplace Exposure Limits (WEL’s) are set by the Health & Safety Commission (HSC). Each hazard has its own WEL published in the EH40 document. The WEL represents the concentration in the air measured over a typical working shift of 8 hours, and a short term 15 minute period. In no circumstances should a published WEL be exceeded, and every reasonable endeavour should be taken to reduce it at source.

Some hazards are very dangerous and, as might be expected the WELs are very low, therefore RPE with high APF will be required to safely protect against these hazards.

If, as is often the case, a combination of hazards is present then each hazard should be measured independently from the others, and measures should be taken to reduce each hazard to a level safely below the WEL.

So, by law the routine should be:-

What is/are the hazard(s) ?

What are the levels of each hazard as measured?

Can each hazard be reduced at source by other means (eg extraction?) Re-measure after reduction actions have been taken.

Look up WEL for each hazard identified.

Select RPE to deal with all types of hazard present, and which reduces each hazard to a level safely below the WEL after taking into account the APF.

Implement training and testing program to ensure safe fitting, maintenance and storage.

If air-fed RPE is required then the supply of air should be tested to an agreed program.

All services to maintain RPE and test air-fed air supply can be contracted out to competent service providers.

Note that RPE must be correctly stored, since degradation of performance can result from unsuitable storage. Consider a particulate filter being left exposed in a dusty atmosphere. Dust will settle on it and clog up the filter medium. This is but one example of how incorrect storage can erode protection performance.

Types of RPE

The range of RPE available is extensive due to the broad range and levels of respiratory hazards.

The table below sets out the various types of RPE.

Filtering Respirators Negative Pressure Particulate Filter P1 Foldaway or moulded
Particulate filter P2 Foldaway or moulded
Particulate Filter P3 Foldaway or moulded
Half Mask Replaceable filter cartridges or discard when exhausted
Full Face Mask Replaceable filter cartridges
Escape Hoods Not for workplace, purely for escape
Powered Particulate / Gas / Vapour Battery-powered impeller-driven air supply from working atmosphere.
Welding Battery-powered impeller-driven air supply from working atmosphere.
Intrinsically Safe For areas where explosion risk exists.
Breathing Apparatus Airline Positive Pressure RPE device is attached to airline.
Constant Flow RPE device is attached to airline.
Positive Pressure Working Sets Air supplied from compressed air cylinders.
Escape Sets Not for workplace, purely for escape


Due to the intrusive nature of RPE it is vital that wearer comfort is considered as the first priority after ensuring compliance. An airline device would make life difficult if a simple disposable filtering face piece would do the job.

The simplest form of RPE is the disposable filtering face piece. These are used over a single shift and then discarded. They have varying levels of complexity, however in their simplest terms they represent a barrier of filtering medium that filters out particulates physically and through electrostatic charging of the filter medium.

Some have valves which alleviate exhalation resistance. Some are fold away, whilst some are moulded. All have a method or ensuring better fit around the mouth and nose, usually a pliable metal strip over the nose.

Improved protection is derived from half mask respirators. These usually consist of a moulded rubber face piece to which replaceable filter cartridges appropriate to the hazard are attached. When exhausted these cartridges are discarded and replaced.

Some half masks are classed as “resposable”, whereby the entire half mask is discarded when exhausted (therefore these tend to last more than one working shift). The further advantage is that there is no need to maintain records of maintenance with these masks.

Greater protection is derived from full face mask respirators. These are similar to half mask respirators, but they cover the full face, offering a level of face protection in addition to respiratory.

Filtering escape hoods are, as their title implies, intended to protect the wearer whilst they escape from an emergency. They cover the entire head and have a seal around the neck. They are not to be used as workplace protection.

Powered RPE operates on the principle of drawing in air from the working atmosphere, passing it through a filter barrier, and blowing it in a constant flow over the wearers face.

The battery and electrical gear is usually housed on a belt worn by the worker and fed up a hose to the head top (although some incorporate all of this within the headpiece). These items are often modular in that a variety of combinations of head top, hose, motor unit and filters are ordered individually for each application.

Care must be taken to ensure that batteries can be re-charged to ensure full operation over a shift. They incorporate alarms to show battery low and when filters are clogged.

As stated, a variety of filters can be fitted to suit the hazard (see below).

Head tops can provide additional protection to the head and the eyes.

Extended life batteries can be selected for longer shifts.

Intrinsically safe motor units can be selected where sparks might cause explosion hazard.

Because they do not fit directly onto the face these sets are more comfortable than half or full face masks, but can be cumbersome due to the hose, and integral units can be heavy.

With airline RPE all the filtering is done away from the wearer, so a headtop or mask is fed from an airline attached to mains compressed air. This umbilical can be cumbersome, however airline offers excellent protection since it operates at higher pressure than the working atmosphere.

Self-contained breathing apparatus operates in a similar manner to airline, however the air supply is derived from compressed air cylinders worn by the worker. This is the most unwieldy type of RPE, and rigorous testing and maintenance programs are required, backed up by meticulous record keeping in order to ensure safe operation.

Filtering Respirators offer protection against a range of hazards. If their filter medium is integral as in the case of filtering face pieces then the correct item must be used. If they use removable filter cartridges then the correct cartridge must be used to address the hazard.

Below is a table of the types of filters available.

Filter Type Particles Organic Vapour Organic Vapours (BP below 65°C) Inorganic Vapours Acid Gas Ammonia Mercury
P1 Coarse
P2 Medium
P3 Fine
A1 Yes
A2 Extended Duration
ABE1 Yes Yes Yes
ABE2 Extended Duration Extended Duration Extended Duration
K1 Yes
K2 Extended Duration
ABEK1 Yes Yes Yes Yes
AX Yes
ABEK1Hg Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Note that some filter combinations can be achieved by building up filter cartridges into a “stacked” canister. Many offer a general pre-filter to avoid ingress of nuisance dust. Note that combinations of cartridges increase breathing resistance.

None of the above is suitable for anaerobic atmospheres whereby there is insufficient oxygen. Filters will only remove, they do not add anything. In anaerobic atmospheres only airline or breathing apparatus is suitable.

European Norms for RPE

Due to the extensive range of RPE there are many EN standards in operation to regulate the quality and performance of devices, which are shown in the table below.

Standard Type of RPE Devices
EN 136 Full Face Pieces
EN 137 Self- contained open circuit compressed air breathing apparatus (BA)
EN 140 Half Mask Face Pieces
EN 141 Gas / Vapour Filters
EN 143 Particulate Filters
EN 146 Powered Respirators with Hood or Helmet
EN 147 Powered Particle Filter Full Face Masks
EN 148 Filtering Particulate Face Pieces
EN 270 Compressed Air Units with Hood
EN 371 Gas and Combined Filters for use against low boiling point organic compounds
Standard Type of RPE Devices
EN 402 Escape Apparatus / Self -Contained Breathing Apparatus with Full Face Mask or Mouthpiece Assembly
EN 405 Valve Filtering Half Mask Respirators (Maintenance Free) for Gases and / or Particulates
EN 1146 Compressed Air Escape Apparatus With Hood
EN 1835 Light Duty Supplied Air
EN 12941 Powered Respirators with Hood or Helmet Requiring Low Flow indicator
EN 12942 Powered Respirator Full Face Masks

These set out the performance and marking requirements for all HPD’s.

Respiratory Protection Certification Markings

All RPE should bear the CE mark, the manufacturer’s code number, and the filtering protection offered where relevant. Filter cartridges show the information above, and also conform with a colour code on the exterior to assist with the use of the correct filter(s). The expiry date where relevant is also shown.

Breathing apparatus does not filter, so does not carry the filtering protection designations, however it does show the EN standard to which it conforms.

The standards in operation and the marking requirements are too complex to list, however the following link will take you to the HSE website document (14 pages), which explains this in full detail.

There is a useful manufacturer document which aids correct RPE selection and also identifies the colour coded filters required to address a wide range of hazards.

All RPE should include a leaflet which clearly sets out the hazards for which it is intended and instructions for correct use including fitting, storage and maintenance.

Testing of Respiratory Protective Equipment

All devices are tested in an environment of controlled atmosphere and contaminant(s). Devices are mounted on a dummy head and suction applied via an airway representing the human airways within the device. Levels of contaminant that successfully pass through the device are measured. This provides an indication of the contaminant reduction achieved.

Respiratory protection certification testing is carried out during product development, prior to certification and against a proscribed sampling regime during manufacturing in order to ensure that performance is reliably maintained.


For all Respiratory protection applications a range of EN standards provide the performance and testing requirements to keep wearers protected by CE approved RPE in the workplace, backed up by respiratory protection certification testing requirements to ensure consistent manufacturing standards.

This in no way removes the responsibility of the employer to ensure appropriate surveys, estimation of personal exposures, RPE selection, user uptake, provision of fitting, replacement, and cleaning/maintenance training, adequate storage, and of course replacement in the event of damage or wear when used in each application.

With an effective program Respiratory risks can be eradicated from the workplace.


To help combat the problems of non-approved and counterfeit PPE, the BSIF has created the Registered Safety Supplier (RSS) Scheme

Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0


More on this subject

respiratory-protection-certification-rpe-example Product Testing and PPE CE Marking

An explanation of PPE CE marking and the regulatory requirements that must be met in order to legitimately offer a PPE product on the European market.



ppe-certification-head-protectionPPE Certification for Head Protection

Read our category-specific article on head protection which sets out to provide an explanation of the mandatory European Legislative requirements for offering PPE Headwear.