So, you want to grow out your beard, but wear a tight-fitting respirator at work?
Ensuring the respirator seal is a vital part of respiratory protection practices. Facial hair that lies along the sealing area of a respirator, such as beards, sideburns, or some mustaches, will interfere with respirators that rely on a tight face piece seal to achieve maximum protection. Facial hair is a common reason that someone cannot be fit tested.
The reason for this is simple – gases, vapors, and particles in the air will take the path of least resistance and bypass the part of the respirator that captures or filters hazards out. So then, why can’t facial hair act as a crude filter to capture particles that pass between the respirator sealing area and the skin? While human hair appears to be very thin to the naked eye, hair is much larger in size than the particles inhaled. Facial hair is just not dense enough and the individual hairs are too large to capture particles like an air filter does; nor will a beard trap gases and vapors like the carbon bed in a respirator cartridge. Therefore, the vast majority of particles, gases, and vapors follow the air stream right through the facial hair and into respiratory tract of the wearer. In fact, some studies have shown that even a day or two of stubble can begin to reduce protection. Research tells us that the presence of facial hair under the sealing surface causes 20 to 1000 times more leakage compared to clean-shaven individuals.
The Respiratory Protection standard, paragraph 29 CFR 1910.134(g)(1)(i)(A), 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 that are neatly trimmed so that no hair compromises the seal of the respirator usually do not present a hazard and, therefore, do not violate paragraph 1910.134(g)(1)(i).
Provided by Ohio BWC staff.