How to Choose the Correct Spray Paint Respirator

How to Choose the Correct Spray Paint Respirator

According to the HSE, around 50 percent of small paint shops provide inadequate protection to sprayers through their use of RPE as a control. Regulations surrounding the use of RPE are complex, so this may not be surprising, but it's not acceptable. RPE compliance isn't about red tape, it's about safeguarding your workforce. Sprayers face serious health risks if they are not adequately protected. Employers are responsible for selecting the correct spray paint respirator and managing RPE use in the workplace. At Ultrimax, we like to make it easier for our customers to protect their workforce. The following guide will help you to understand the different types of RPE and how to choose the right respirator.

The different types of RPE 

There is a wide range of masks on the market, each offering a different level of protection. They include:
  • Disposable half-mask
  • Semi-disposable half-mask
  • Re-usable half-mask
  • Full-face mask
  • Powered hood
  • Aired hood
The table below describes each type of mask in more detail:    

Selecting your spray paint respirator 

RPE must be:
  • Adequate - appropriate for the hazard and able to reduce exposure to the level required to protect the wearer.
  • Suitable - right for the wearer, task and environment.
  To select RPE that is adequate and suitable, you will need to determine:
  • The type of substance being used and the concentration levels that the worker will be exposed to.
  • The type of exposure - particles, gas, vapour, etc. or a combination of types.
  • The nature of the work being carried out.
  • If the wearer has any other specific requirements, such as additional types of PPE or a need to wear glasses.
  • Whether the concentration of substance in the air could be life threatening. Specialised breathing apparatus (BA) is necessary in these circumstances.

Identifying the right RPE for the hazard 

You should refer to your workplace CoSHH risk assessment to identify the exposure hazards that require RPE. Hazards will include:
  1. Products classed as 'dangerous for supply
These are supplied with a safety data sheet (SDS) by law which should provide information on:
  • Health hazards
  • Forms of the substances contained in the product (particles, gas or vapour, etc.)
  • Type of RPE necessary for its use
  1. Certain work activities
These include sanding, cutting or heating materials, that may generate harmful dusts, mists, gases or fumes.  

Forms of hazardous substance 

A hazardous substance can be released into the air as:
  • Solid or liquid particles - includes fine sprays, mists and fumes
  • Gas
  • Vapour
  You need to select RPE with filters that are suitable for the substance and its form.

Filter types 

The various types of respirator all rely on filters to remove the contaminant before the wearer breathes air into their lungs. There are two basic filter types available:
  • Particle filters (these do not protect against gas/vapour)
  • Gas/vapour filters (these do not protect against particles)
  During paint spraying, more than one form of substance can be released into the air. In these circumstances, you will require RPE with both particle and gas/vapour filters. The tables below provide further information on the particle filter classes and gas/vapour filter types.

Particle filter classes 

Gas and vapour filter types 


Deciding on the level of protection 

Respirators are categorised by their assigned protection factor (APF) of 4, 10, 20, 200 or 2000. When deciding which level of protection to use, you should consider:
  • Does the substance have a safety data sheet that advises on the required APF?
  • Does the HSE CoSHH Essentials provide advice on the required APF?
  • Does the substance have a prescribed workplace exposure limit (WEL) that the wearer needs to stay below?
  • Is the substance a carcinogen, mutagen or a potential cause of occupational asthma? If so, you should choose the highest po
  If you're unsure of the APF requirements for a substance, consult a suitably qualified professional who can advise you on the required APF for your situation.

Selecting RPE suited to the wearer, task and environment 

Once you have established the adequate types of respirator for controlling the hazards, you should refine your choice to suit:
  • the individual wearer
  • the tasks they are performing
  • the environment in which they are working
Involve the wearer and/or their safety representative in the selection process. This will help you select the most suitable RPE and increase the likelihood of wearer compliance. Things to consider when assessing the wearer and the task include:

How long is the task? 

Tight-fitting, unpowered RPE should not be worn for any longer than an hour without the worker taking a break. For tasks that require the sprayer to wear RPE continuously for extended periods, a powered respirator or airline BA would be more suitable.

Does the sprayer have facial hair? 

Facial hair prevents a good seal with half-masks and unpowered full-face masks, making them unsuitable.

Does the sprayer have any pre-existing medical conditions? 

Certain types of RPE are unsuitable for people with pre-existing conditions such as respiratory disorders, skin allergies and heart problems. Also consider if the equipment suitable for a sprayer that wears glasses or contact lenses.

Does the task require any other head-worn PPE? 

If eye protection, ear protection or safety helmets are required in addition to RPE, an integrated PPE system is preferable.

What is the workplace e nvironment like? 

Will factors such as temperature or humidity affect impact on the choice of RPE?

Don't forget the fit test 

RPE only works effectively if it fits the wearer. So, if you select a tight-fitting respirator, the wearer needs to undergo a fit test as part of the initial selection. It's also good practice to conduct regular repeat fit tests if the RPE is used frequently.

How is your paint shop performing? 

The HSE has identified that companies fall into four categories of RPE proficiency. Take a look to see which category describes your paint shop. If you're anything other than proficient then now is a good time to seek expert advice.

How can Ultrimax help? 

Did you know that the we provide Total Paint Shop Support to help you achieve compliance and protect your painters? Our expert team can support you with:
  • Guidance regarding your legal responsibilities and how to comply
  • Face fit testing service
  • A wide range of RPE equipment

Useful HSE web pages and publications: 

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