Why do my workers have to be clean shaven to wear a disposable half face mask? 

When wearing, or being tested on, a tight or close fitting face mask, facial hair is not permitted in the face seal area. Facial hair will force the mask seal away from the face and allow contaminants into the mask.

Facial hair grows at different rates and therefore it is unreasonable to give a time limit on how long a person can go between shaves. HSG 53 (A practical guide to respiratory protective equipment at work)  states that the wearer of tight fitting RPE must be clean shaven. A persons face is considered clean shaven if the skin surface is smooth (i.e. no detectable facial hair or stubble) in the area where the seal meets the skin.

Concessions can be granted to individuals that have small moustaches and goatee beards providing that they do not meet or interfere with the seal.

Where beards are worn for religious purposes or there are other valid reasons for a person not being able to shave or wear a close fitting mask, then employers should provide an alternative.

Powered respirators with either a hood or visor may be a good alternative to filtering half masks, however, these are not suitable for all applications.

Engage your workforce, explain what the respiratory hazards are and the possible health affects arising from unprotected exposure. Give them information on the performance of your selected equipment relating to filtration media and how to wear, maintain, dispose of or store it correctly, this will help you in developing a positive culture to wearing RPE within the workplace.

What is not acceptable and may result in enforcement action when detected by an enforcement officer is permitting bearded operatives to wear RPE or not wear them at all where your risk assessments have documented their requirement.

2015 HSL Study

In 2015 the HSL carried out a study on the effect that facial hair growth had on face fit test results. A number of subjects were asked not to shave for a seven day period, during which they were tested, each day, on a number of different masks.

The results showed that the effect of stubble/growth on level of protection was quite specific to the mask/wearer combination. Protection could be significantly reduced where stubble was present, beginning within 24 hours from shaving, and generally worsening as facial hair grew. Statistical analysis predicted this could reach an unacceptable level for all of the masks tested. While some individual wearers did grow some stubble without significantly reducing protection with some masks, this was unpredictable and it would not be practical to conduct the necessary testing to confirm this for every individual wearer.

The current guidance advising being clean shaven in the area of the mask seal was deemed to be justified. The full report can be accessed here.

Although there are some fit test providers that will carry out a test on a person with facial hair – this is not permitted under the HSE fit testing protocol OC 282/28 or the guidance given by Fit2Fit. OC 282/28 states in its guidance to fit testers,

“You should not conduct the fit test if there is any hair growth between the skin and the facepiece sealing surface, such as stubble beard growth, beard, moustache, sideburns or low hairline which cross the respirator sealing surface.”

A competent and reputable fit tester will refuse to test a wearer with any facial hair or stubble.

If you are interested in Face Fit Testing, please call us on 01525 851752 or email enquiries@ccconsulting.uk.com.