Respiratory protective equipment

Control Measure Knowledge

This control measure should be read in conjunction with Personal protective equipment

Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is a type of personal protective equipment designed to protect the wearer from breathing in harmful substances, or from oxygen-deficient atmospheres, when other controls are either not possible or are insufficient on their own.

The use of RPE allows efficient, effective and safe working practices to be adopted at incidents of all sizes and type where an irrespirable atmosphere presents a hazard to personnel. There are two main types of RPE; respirators and breathing apparatus (BA).

Further information about the use of RPE can be found in the British Standards Institution (BSI) publication, ISO/TS 16975-1:2016 Respiratory protective devices – Selection, use and maintenance: Establishing and implementing a respiratory protective device programme.


Respirators are filtering devices that remove contaminants from the air being breathed in; non-powered respirators rely on the wearer breathing to draw air through the filter. Respirators are not suitable for use in oxygen-deficient atmospheres.

Breathing apparatus

Breathing apparatus (BA) requires a supply of breathing-quality air from an independent source such as an air cylinder. Breathing apparatus (BA) enables firefighters to breathe safely in otherwise irrespirable atmospheres. The use of BA as a control measures is likely to be applied as part of the incident plan for any incident involving:

  • Smoke and fire gases
  • Working in confined spaces
  • Hazardous materials including:
    • Asphyxiants
    • Dusts
    • Toxic, flammable or explosive substances


Airline equipment supplies air to the wearer from a cylinder that is located remotely from them. The technical procedures for the specific airline equipment in use should be followed. Airline equipment should only be used by trained and competent personnel. It be appropriately used and maintained, to avoid the air supply to BA wearers being compromised.

Following an appropriate risk assessment, it may be decided to use airline equipment to provide breathing apparatus capability. Its use may be appropriate:

  • If an extended air supply to self-contained BA wearers is required
  • If use of self-contained BA is unsuitable
  • At incidents in the open, where airlines are used to provide a breathable atmosphere without the weight of a self-contained BA set
  • For specialist operations that involve restricted access

Although the use of airline equipment reduces the overall weight carried by a BA wearer and can provide a limitless supply of air, the physiological limitations of the BA wearer should be considered when airline equipment is used.

Face mask fit testing

If RPE is used, it must be able to provide adequate protection for individual wearers; RPE cannot protect the wearer if it leaks.

Face mask fit testing is a method of checking that a tight-fitting face piece matches the wearer’s facial features and seals adequately to their face. A face mask fit test should be carried out as part of the initial selection of the RPE and it is good practice to ensure testing is repeated on a regular basis. Further detail on face mask fit testing is provided in the Breathing apparatus foundation material.

Further information is contained in the Health and Safety Executive’s publications:


Maintenance is a requirement for all RPE, except for disposable (single use) RPE, and should be carried out by properly trained personnel. Thorough maintenance, examination and tests should be carried out at regular intervals in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Breathing apparatus foundation material

The breathing apparatus foundation material provides the procedures underpinning the planning, use, and command and control of BA. It should also assist fire and rescue services with:

  • Developing safe systems of work when deploying BA
  • Managing BA operations
  • Testing and maintenance of BA equipment
  • Defining roles and responsibilities for BA
  • Developing BA training
  • Readiness of BA wearers
  • Pre-planning for intraoperability and interoperability

For more information refer to The Foundation for breathing apparatus.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions