Why the Wrong RPE is More Dangerous Than no RPE

In an ideal world, the risk of dangerous airborne particles simply wouldn’t exist. The proper application of the Hierarchy of Controls, though Elimination, Substitution, Engineering, Administration and PPE would mitigate the threat and make sure that everyone was properly protected. 

But the unfortunate reality is that many workers still face threats from a wide range of hazardous dust and particulates. From silica, construction dust, fibreglass, wood, asbestos… the list goes on.

While every stage of the HoC can play an important role in helping to make workplaces safer, it’s the final PPE/RPE stage – the provision of and proper wearing of suitably selected and fit tested respiratory protective equipment (RPE) – that presents the biggest challenge.


Because too often, RPE fails to provide the protection that wearers think it does.


Too often RPE is:

  • Inappropriate – the wrong equipment for the wrong job
  • Poorly maintained – RPE needs to be kept in good condition and properly maintained and stored
  • Poorly explained – the employee lacks sufficient training and information on the correct use of the RPE provided
  • Ill fitting – loose fitting or poorly maintained masks with gaps around the edges allows dangerous particles to be inhaled.

The Construction Dust Partnership (an industry collaboration that helps help construction industry contractors, employers, operatives and others manage the risk of exposure to dusts and raise awareness) says, ‘any gaps around the RPE’s edges allow the contaminant-laden air to pass straight to the nose/mouth and be inhaled into the lungs.’ 

Did you know beards or stubble can severely impact the performance of RPE?

‘If the wearer has stubble where the RPE seals to the face, this will make an adequate seal between the skin and the RPE impossible. A lack of knowledge or understanding on how to wear RPE correctly can often lead to an unrealistic expectation of protection.’

In other words, people are working with a false sense of security.

The Paradox of RPE

There’s nothing more dangerous than thinking you’re safe when in reality you’re not. When, in this case, you’re labouring under the illusion that your RPE is protecting you from harm and all it’s doing is placing you squarely in harm’s way.

“People are not so good at assessing exposure to a risk,” says risk perception expert Ann Bostrom, of University of Washington. 

It’s something we’ve seen clearly during the Covid pandemic. Masks acting as signifiers of safety rather than providing genuine protection. 

A dangerous combination of availability and confirmation bias, the psychology is explained in this Forbes article, drawing comparisons between RPE and seatbelts and citing a report that shows people drive faster and more recklessly when they wear seatbelts. The same applies to cyclists riding less cautiously when wearing helmets.

So what’s the answer? If industry is consistently failing to apply the Hierarchy of Controls well enough to protect workers, or even worse, lulling workers into a dangerously false sense of security, what can businesses do to properly protect their people?

The answer is surprisingly simple.

Personal Wearable Dust Monitoring

Wear personal monitoring. Particulate monitoring that gives you an accurate, realtime understanding of the dust threat you and your workers face.

A case of ‘know your enemy’.

Properly detecting previously unseen and undetectable threat – seeing it as a real danger, not abstract – allows you to properly challenge it. And in the process, your RPE reclaims its proper protective value – a specific, contextual and essential value. 

Instead of being taken for granted, worn out of habit, ‘just in case’ or ‘because that’s the way we do it,’ RPE transforms from dangerous IPPI to safe APPW.


Respiratory protective equipment that’s:

  • Appropriate – the right equipment for the right job
  • Properly maintained – RPE is kept in good condition, properly maintained and stored
  • Properly explained – the employee gets all the training and information on the correct use of the RPE provided they need
  • Worn correctly – well fitting RPR that prevents the inhalation of dangerous particles 

Get in touch to find out more about how our new Air XD and XD One products – accurate, simple to use, easy to maintain, real-time particulate detection technology that helps your teams use their RPE more effectively.

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