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Breath of fresh air

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RPB Safety believes its brand new modular respirators will highlight an invisible threat facing the railway and demonstrate why protection is vital.

Originally from New Zealand, RPB Safety began supplying respirators to the abrasive blasting industry around 40 years ago. In 2011, the company moved its headquarters to the USA, setting up an office in Detroit, Michigan. From there, the business supplies more than 50 different countries around the world.

The family-owned company, which opened its first UK office earlier this year, launched the new range of Z-Link respirators in June at the Safety and Health Expo in London.

Silica dust and silicosis

Awareness has gradually been growing about the severe risk posed by silica dust and silicosis, said Tim Jones, global market development manager for RPB Safety. Silicosis is a lung disease that is caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica – or silica dust as it is commonly called. Within the rail industry, silica dust can be prevalent in activities like tunnelling and while working with ballast.

Z-Link is designed to be adaptable, said Tim. Developed over a two-year period, the Z-Link is a powered air visor respirator system. It is designed to be multi-purpose and can be augmented. Accessories include a clip-on welding mask, ear protection, comms and a jaw-mounted LED light. Much of the focus has also been on comfort, recognising that ill-fitting respirators provide little protection.

The respirator uses RPB’s battery-powered PX4 Air purifying unit. The PX4 Air uses a fan to draw air through a filter so it is safe for the wearer to breathe. The battery can operate for up to 13 hours between charges and the main P3 filter only needs replacing around once a month. The cartridge also comes with an air flow tester, allowing it to be inspected before use.


  • Modular design with detachable ear protectors, welding mask and LED light and in-helmet comms
  • Replaceable impact lens and removable ADF lens
  • Choice of two cape options and three cape materials
  • Adjustable head band

Assigned Protection Factor (APF)

Tim believes the big challenge is one of culture. The risk posed by silica dust is not seen as an immediate one and is therefore not always treated as seriously as other risks; working at a height or alongside a live railway, for example.

Protection on site is also often limited to disposable dust masks. To give some context, respiratory protection is based on an Assigned Protection Factor (APF) level. Dust masks have an APF of around 10-20. The Z-Link has an APF rating of 40*.

RPB says its respirator technology is inspired by military innovation. ‘Choose your armour’ it reads on the website. The main aim is to make sure people can leave work healthy at the end of the day ‘We’re giving them the equipment to make sure they get home safe at night,’ said Tim. ‘We are protecting you for life’s best moments.’

Find out more about Z-Link at www.rpbsafety.com/product/zlink/

* In the USA, Z-Link’s OSHA APF rating is 1,000+. However, the UK’s official upper allowable claimed limit is 40