Last reviewed 7 January 2021

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published advice explaining alternative ways of working to reduce risk, which may mean that workers no longer need to use respiratory protective equipment (RPE) when using power tools.

In guidance available at www.hse.gov.uk, it explains the control measures employers should consider when dealing with supply issues of personal protective equipment, including RPE, during the pandemic.

This recognises that the current situation has put pressures on getting RPE but warns that workers must still be protected from work hazards.

It offers advice on: using respirators past their shelf life; buying respirators that will protect workers; reusing disposable respirators (for example FFP2 or FFP3); and steps that employers can take to manage RPE supply shortages.

For example, the guidance looks at reducing the risk without using normal RPE by reassessing the risks and working through the hierarchy in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).

This might involve:

  • avoiding working with the hazardous substance

  • substituting the hazardous substance for one that is less harmful

  • doing the work in another way to reduce exposure

  • putting in place other controls to reduce exposure.

“Remember,” the guidance warns, “you should never use RPE with a protection factor of less than 10 for protection against hazardous substances, and all RPE must be CE-marked. Don’t forget that fit testing is needed for tight-fitting respirators.”

The HSE has also produced advice on Using power tools: avoiding the need for RPE during the pandemic.

This lists some common construction tasks involving power tools and offers examples of alternative work methods that can reduce the risk of exposure to dust and other hazardous substances.

It covers power drills and masonry drills, cut-off saws, handheld pneumatic breakers or jackhammers, core drills and angle grinders.