While beards and mustaches are very fashionable, they do present a challenge to workers who are required to use a respirator and receive proper fit testing in accordance with OSHA standard as referenced in 1910.134(g)(1) Face piece Seal Protection. Facial hair can put workers at increased risk because a beard or mustache, if not trimmed properly, can compromise the performance of tight-fitting respirators. Anything that comes between the face and the respirator’s seal, or gets into the respirator’s valves, can allow contaminated air to leak into the respirator face piece, reducing your worker’s protection.
Higher than expected exposures to a contaminate may occur if users have poor face seals with the respirator, resulting in excess leakage. No attempt should be made to fit a respirator on an employee who has facial hair which comes between the sealing periphery of the face piece and the face, or if facial hair interferes with normal functioning of the exhalation valve of the respirator. Employees should be monitored throughout the fit testing process to determine if they can keep a seal during respirator use.
Respirator Usage Written Program
OSHA mandates that all employers requiring respirator usage have a written program. That program should include defining facial hair policies if tight-fitting respirator masks are used. Often, this is enforced only at the time of hire or at annual fit-testing; yet, it is equally important to monitor and remind employees of the policy and its purpose throughout the year. A mustache grown for a social cause is not necessarily a point of concern – as long as it is trimmed and maintained to the point that it does not violate the seal area of the respirator and the length does not interfere with exhalation valves, which prevent inward leakage of hazards during inhalation.
Understand OSHA Guidelines
Whether you are fit testing internally, or using an outside vendor, ensure your written program includes a facial hair policy and that your fit testers clearly understand OSHA guidelines for fit testing. The OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard addresses the issue of respirator use and facial hair; clearly stating tight-fitting respirators are not permitted to be worn by employees who have facial hair that comes between the sealing surface of the face piece and the face, or that interferes with valve function. Be sure your workers are aware and understand the purpose of the regulation, as it will eliminate delays in the fit testing process, and ensure your workers are fully protected while wearing the respirator at all times.