Can You Get a Respirator Seal With a Beard?
Respiratory protection continues to be important in hazardous environments and other specified areas. Respirators are useful in reducing exposure to certain gases and toxins that can impact the health of employees. Safety managers are often responsible for ensuring that respirators are available and used as directed. This involves meeting OSHA standards and other applicable requirements.
What do employees need to know about the use of respirators and maintenance of facial hair? Understand more about the concerns surrounding effective use of respirators as they apply to having a beard.
Can a Beard Increase Exposure?
In some environments, such as when an atmosphere is considered hazardous, a mask must be fit tested or the employee has to maintain a tight fit. An employee should not be able to break the seal created with the respirator. Employees working in an environment wherein exposure is above the Permissible Exposure Limit are generally mandated to wear a respirator. Growth of a beard may interfere with respirator’s face seal, impeding the filtering capability of face pieces.
What About When Wearing a Respirator Is Voluntary?
When employees are not required to wear a respirator and employees have an option of wearing or not wearing a respirator, an employee may be able to maintain a full beard without violation of OSHA standards. However, this applies in environments that are not deemed hazardous or require the tight fit of a respirator. Employees are permitted to have beards when using respirators in situations where the use of a respirator is voluntary.
What Happens When Bearded Employees Need to Wear a Respirator?
OSHA has a few letters of interpretation on this matter. While not directly coming out and banning beards on employees, statements do make it clear that when beards are allowed, they cannot hinder the respirator’s seal or valve function. This comes into play when employees are mandated to wear respirators. Employees who are allowed to wear a beard need to comply with trimming it in such a way that there is no impediment to the seal and functioning of a tight-fitting facepiece.
Can a Waiver Be Used to Exempt an Individual?
Under OSHA, an employee cannot sign a waiver in order to be exempted from stated requirements. A release or waiver is not possible for employees. That being said, when an employer is looking to accommodate a religious practice, they may have to explore respiratory protection alternatives like helmets or loose-fitting hoods.
Other Considerations to Beards and Respirators
Qualitative fit testing details are available on the OSHA website. However, quantitative measures may also need to be considered. According to NIOSH requirements, facial hair is not permitted when it interferes with the facepiece’s seal. A worker can pass the PortaCount on a single day, but can still present a risk of breaking the seal that would be seen as unacceptable. Employers accommodating the beard of an employee with a respirator alternative like a hood will incur additional costs. Some sources believe that facial hair should not be permitted with a full facepiece, independent of any fit-test results. These are a few factors employers will need to consider as they determine how to best provide respiratory protection while complying with all applicable requirements.