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Fit Testing and Facial Hair
When performing fit testing we consistently run into the same ongoing obstacle: Some guys just DO NOT want to shave their beards. Facial hair is a very common reason that someone cannot be fit tested. In fact, I have personally seen a safety director require their employee to shave their beard on-site in order to complete a fit test… which can be very time consuming for everyone involved.
The Respiratory Protection standard states that respirators shall not be worn when facial hair comes between the sealing surface of the facepiece and the face or that interferes with valve function. Facial hair is allowed… as long as it does not protrude under the respirator seal or extend far enough to interfere with the device's valve function.
Short mustaches, sideburns, and small goatees can be permissible, provided no hair compromises the seal of the respirator. Full beards on the other hand present big problems for tight-fitting facepiece respirators. Facial hair texture and density can vary daily, causing inconsistent respirator fit. This presents a higher potential for leakage.
Some quick science as to why this occurs – Human hair is much larger in size than the particles floating in the environment. Individual hairs are too large to capture particles that an air filter will. The majority of particles will follow the air stream right through the facial hair, under the mask, and into the respiratory tract of the user. According to some studies (Cashmore Scientific Studies of 2015-16) the presence of facial hair under the sealing surface causes 20 to 1000 times more leakage compared to clean-shaven individuals.
Having said all this, you can still keep your beard and get the proper respiratory protection you need. Other types of respirators do not require a face seal, such as loose-fitting or hooded powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs). Not only will this allow you to keep your facial hair (and eliminate fit testing), but the powered air gives you the added benefit of easier, more comfortable breathing. For more information on these options, check out our website or email [email protected]!!
Samie Lee Gossfeld
Sales Manager, Verona Safety