Beards and Facial Hair - How to Stay Safe When Using a Face Mask

Beards and Facial Hair - How to Stay Safe When Using a Face Mask

23rd November 2015

Here at Safety Fabrications we take health and safety issues seriously and we’re committed to keeping our readers up to date with health and safety matters, particularly those that are directly related to the construction industry. As such, we’ve already published several articles about the dangers of construction dust and cannot stress enough the importance of using adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) masks are essential when working on sites where dust is a danger and these masks should be provided by the employer as part of their duty of care. After all, it’s every employer’s legal obligation to ensure that their employees are protected from risks and dangers whilst working.

It’s come to our attention that face masks can potentially cause problems if the correct type are not supplied to the workforce. The owner of a stone masonry company was fined recently for failing to supply the right masks for workers who have facial hair.

There are two face-fit methods that can be used to ensure that a face mask will provide the level of protection required. All staff who are required to wear a tight fitting face mask must undertake a face fit test before starting work. Of the two face fit test methods (qualitative and quantitative), the quantitative method is the test that provides a numerical measure of fit which is called a ‘fit factor’. The qualitative test is subject to many variables and potential interferences and is considered practically meaningless. A quantitative test certificate is evidence of a success face fit test.

Reusable respirators provide a more consistent and higher degree of protection than do disposable paper mask respirators. This is due to a better and more consistent fit results and easy of operator adjustment.

For those employees with facial hair, the area of contact of the face seal of a tight fitting full or half face mask this presents problems. The facial hair prevents a proper seal being achieved or maintained as the skin on the face distorts during normal working conditions or when speaking. The term facial hair covers not only beards, but moustaches and stubble too. However, smaller moustaches and goatee style beards may not preclude a face fit test if they fit within the mask.

A normal mask type respirator relies on a tight fit to the user’s face to be efficient and provide the level of protection necessary. If facial hair prevents a proper seal being achieved, the employee will not be able to use this type of mask. This means that the only other option available is to use a powered positive pressure respirator combined with a full headtop of a type that’s appropriate for the activity being undertaken. Powered respirators don’t rely on a tight fit to the face to provide protection, they are loose fitting and the protection is provided via a supply of filtered air to the interior of the headtop. This creates within the headtop an atmosphere that is at positive pressure to ambient and will prevent the ingress of air borne pollutants.