Essential information for end of life vehicle dismantling, depollution and recycling

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The Use of RPE (Dust Masks) in Vehicle Recycling

Steve Booker, Managing Director, Co-Founder and Senior Instructor at Kentec Training, a company that delivers health & safety-related training programmes, discusses the necessity of using RPE whilst recycling vehicles to avoid damage that airborne particles could cause to your health.


The Use of RPE (Dust Masks) in Vehicle Recycling f
Steve Booker

In the work environment, when recycling vehicles, it can be unsafe to work as they can consist of harmful chemical dust, fumes, sprays, and other types of airborne particles in the air around us and that can enter into the body through the respiratory system.

When recycling vehicles, you are probably already aware of the need to protect your feet with safety boots, your body and hands with overalls and gloves, your eyes with safety glasses or goggles and hearing with ear defenders, but what about your lungs? Whilst they might not be as apparent to you as your eyes, body, hands or feet, they are just as much at risk of harm from the airborne dusts and vapours released in the processes when recycling vehicles. 

Just as with other hazards, where you cannot eliminate the risk or reduce it through substituting materials, or the way you carry out the task, there are several options when it comes to respiratory protective equipment (RPE).

Why should you wear Respiratory Protection?                                                 

Over the past 12 months, you’ve probably become far more used to wearing masks than you ever thought you would, and, in this article, we will look at the different types of RPE that are available, what they can be used for, and some important things to know about how to use them safely.

Primarily, every employer is required, under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, to provide and maintain a safe working environment for its workers and guests. Additionally, several other items of legislation mention the need to ensure a safe working environment and protection of employees, for example, the control of Asbestos Regulations and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH). These all place a legal duty on employers and the self-employed to ensure both their staff and themselves are safe so far as is reasonably practicable.

The failure to understand, assess and provide adequate respiratory protection to workers has been one of the most significant reasons for the rise of respiratory illness and disease in the UK over the past years. Given that asbestos was banned in 1999, we still see too many deaths from exposure to harmful dusts and vapours.

The selection of RPE is important as each type and size offer differing levels of fit and protection. All RPE must, however, be adequate and suitable. Adequate means that the RPE is right for the hazard and protects the user, and Suitable, in that it is right for the wearer, the task in hand and the environment it is being used in; for example, the wearer can move freely whilst working without creating additional risks due to the RPE.

The hazards that you are likely to be exposed to in recycling vehicles include:

  • Dust from brakes and clutches, some of which may be asbestos in older vehicles
  • Particles and dust from disintegrating interiors and dirty vehicles. Fumes and vapours from batteries and fuel systems.

Types of RPE

Courtesy Masks and Face Coverings

The Use of RPE (Dust Masks) in Vehicle Recycling post one
Courtesy Masks – This photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC

These are the sort of masks you’ve seen everybody wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a working environment, they should only be used where you are unable to maintain a 2-metre distance between yourself and others. Whilst not 100% effective, they can be used to reduce the likelihood of spreading viruses such as the cold virus or Covid 19.  In general, they protect the environment from you and not you from the environment, so they must not be used in place of respiratory protective equipment where specific protection has been assessed as necessary.

Tight Fitting Face pieces (Masks)

This type of mask requires a seal between the mask and the wearer’s face to ensure effective protection. Therefore, these masks will require face fitting to test and ensure that the seal is good for the mask to the wearer’s face. To gain this seal, the wearer must not have any facial hair at the point where the mask touches and seal normally, meaning that the wearer must be clean-shaven at all times when a mask is to be worn. These masks are available in disposable, half masks, or full-face masks and further information is provided below.

Disposable Masks

The Use of RPE (Dust Masks) in Vehicle Recycling rpe
Disposable RPE – This photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

These masks are designed and tested to agreed standards which means you can rely on them to provide the level of protection promised if they are used in line with the manufacturer’s instructions. In other words, these masks protect you from the environment around you. These masks are available as single-session use or reusable multiple session use, denoted with either ‘NR’ or ‘R’ and come in various protection levels. In the UK, they will be marked with ‘FFP1’, ‘FFP2’ or ‘FFP3’, which denotes the level of protection provided. Around the world, there are other standards that you might see, such as N95 in America. These masks must be stored correctly until needed.

Half Masks

These sorts of masks also carry the same markings to show what level of protection they provide.  The difference is that they contain filters that can be replaced.  Half face respirators will be more appropriate to use if there’s a requirement to wear other protective equipment. This is not always possible with a full-face mask. These sorts of masks are more expensive initially than disposable masks, but if you are using them regularly may be more cost-effective and appropriate in the long run.  As well as storing these correctly, you will also need to make sure they are properly cleaned and maintained.

The Use of RPE (Dust Masks) in Vehicle Recycling face mask
Half and Full Face Masks – This photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

Full Face Masks

A full-face mask is better in protecting your entire face, and it can provide a better seal as it seals around the entire face, which is easier than sealing around the nose and mouth. As the full-face respirator covers the entire face, it is suited for working in an environment where your eyes and entire face need protection. Full face respirators can offer a greater level of protection if the hazard is capable of irritating the eyes, especially if you need splash and spray protection. As with half masks, the level of protection provided by these masks depends on the type of filter used.

Loose Fitting Face pieces

These types are often available in the form of a hood or full covering visor and rely on a constant supply of clean breathing quality filtered air supplied to positively pressurise the visor, helmet, suit or hood preventing dusts and vapours from entering. The air can be supplied from an airline, tank or powered filtration unit.

Choosing the Right Mask

When you are selecting RPE, you need to consider the task being undertaken, the hazards it poses, and the person you are protecting.

The Use of RPE (Dust Masks) in Vehicle Recycling t one

Make sure your RPE is genuine

With the rise in demand over the past 12 months, there has been a rise in counterfeit or fake masks on the market. It is essential you know what you are looking for when buying a mask. Always buy from a reputable source.

The markings you should expect to see are:

The Use of RPE (Dust Masks) in Vehicle Recycling t two

Making sure your RPE fits

Once you’ve selected your mask, you need to make sure you fit it correctly as tight-fitting respirators (such as disposable FFP 3 masks and reusable half masks) rely on having a good seal with the wearer’s face.

To ensure that respiratory protective equipment (RPE) will protect the wearer:

  • a face fit test should be carried out the first time a worker uses a particular type of respirator
  • the wearer should carry out a pre-use seal check or fit check, which they should repeat every time they put a respirator on

It is important that the face fit test is repeated whenever there is a change to the RPE size, type, model or material or whenever there is a change to the circumstances of the wearer that could alter the fit of the RPE e.g.

  • Weight loss or gain
  • Substantial dental work
  • Any facial changes around the face seal area, e.g., scars, moles, effects of ageing etc
  • Facial piercings

Introduction or change in other head-worn personal protective equipment

If in doubt – ask. There are resources that you can find online to help you identify if a mask is genuine and what level of protection you need; some of these are linked below. 

You should also ensure that you and your employees are properly trained in selecting and using RPE.  Specialist companies such as Kentec can provide you with face fit testing, training and guidance. All of Kentec’s face fit testers are ‘fit2fit’ registered, and as such, you can rest assured that the test procedure is carried out to a strict standard.

It’s your health, look after it

As will all PPE, RPE is in place to protect your health and ensure you live a long and happy life. Always ensure you have the right RPE for the job and make sure it fits. You only have one life; protect your lungs and let us ensure it’s a healthy one.

If you would like further information, please contact Steve at

 Further information

 About Steve Booker

Steve is the Managing Director of Kentec Group Services Ltd, Kentec Training Ltd and Kentec Tool Hire Ltd. His role is to strategically manage the direction, operation and principles of each company, including the team of outstanding and passionate individuals who control its success.

He is also the director of PASMA and sits on the training committees for PASMA, IPAF and the Ladder Association. An Ambassador for the IOSH ‘No time to Lose’ campaign on occupational cancer working with companies to reduce the risks from asbestos and silica.

Kentec Training is a business built around its people, their values and a never-ending commitment to loyalty, honesty, integrity, and accountability. Kentec people produce outstanding results and have a sense of team, a sense of common purpose and unity, making it a special place to work. 

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