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The effects of facial hair when wearing tight fitting RPE (i.e. FFP3 masks)...

A high number of workers across a range of sectors still rely on “Tight Fitting” RPE to protect against a wide range of airborne hazards.… This could be a disposable mask, a reusable half face respirator or full face RPE.


ALL of the above devices rely on creating an efficient seal to the face and therefore the wearer MUST be FULLY CLEAN SHAVEN where the mask contacts the face. HSE data (RR1052*) suggests that as little as 24 hours facial hair growth could significantly impact the performance of the device.







So, for clarity, we're not just talking beards here, we're talking stubble!


Will a mask offer some protection if worn with facial hair?

As above, the performance of the RPE could be significantly reduced; whilst it still may retain the larger particles, it is far less likely to prevent the wearer from inhaling the smaller, respirable particles that are more likely to cause ill health.


Can an employer “turn a blind eye” to people wearing masks with stubble / beards?

No, employers have a legal (and moral) obligation to ensure the health, safety & welfare of their employees.


Can people “opt out” or sign a disclaimer?

Again, NO, the above duty is absolute; also, employees have a legal obligation to take reasonable care of themselves and not to interfere with anything provided in the interests of H&S.


What are the ramifications of wearing tight fitting RPE with facial hair?

· HSE actions (FFI / IN / PN… and they will!)

· More importantly, unprotected workers developing life limiting (or life ending!) health conditions.


How do I protect those who are unable or unwilling to be clean shaven?

Three options here really, not forgetting that PPE is way down the hierarchy of control…

· Control exposure by other means

· Supply powered air systems that do not reply on a seal to the face

· Remove the individual from the hazard.


Can an employer force people to be clean shaven? Tricky one!...

· You can write this into contracts of employment, you can enforce policies, procedures, and site rules (think boots, hard hats, ear defenders, gloves) but “forcing” someone to shave is a bit of a sticky one.

· Firstly, educate! Explain the hazard and possible exposure health effects, explain the RPE and how it functions… you need people to want to protect their own heath!

· Consider that all individuals are exactly that, individuals! Some people are happy to shave, other are not… but they must understand the significance of protecting their health and the employer must understand the individual too!


Can an employer make their employees buy their own alternative RPE?

Absolutely not! These are basic principles laid down in HSAW1974 and the PPE Regulations ’92 (as amended 2022); employers cannot levy charges for anything provided in the interests of Health and Safety.


Shave for a face fit test and then grow it back?

All too often this happens; it’s ridiculous! If someone is unable or unwilling to shave on a regular basis, then tight fitting RPE is not the solution!


We must talk, discuss, educate, inform, and provide (often costly) alternatives!

This is a subject that can and will be discussed again and again and in length, but simply put..


· Tight fitting RPE CANNOT protect the wearer when worn with facial hair.

· Worker health MUST be protected.

· Alternative methods of protection ARE available.

· Is it a big issue (for most people) to shave regularly to protect their long-term health? Not for me but I only speak for myself here.


This subject matter could also be expanded; tight fitting RPE is not suitable based on other parameters / situations / hazards…


· Long continuous wear times (ref non-powered RPE)

· A need for eye or face protection (ref half face RPE)

· Compatibility with not just the user, but other PPE / corrective eyewear.

· Worker health i.e. lung function (non-powered RPE has increased inhalation resistance)

· Environmental & work rate factors


In these instances, powered air systems (or controlling exposure by other means) may be the way forward.


Facial hair is just one issue with (tight fitting) RPE; selection, inspection, maintenance, cleaning, storage and USER TRAINING must all be given consideration.


Protect your workers!



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