Facial Hair and Respirator Use

notice published by NIOSH last month updates the agency’s position regarding facial hair and the selection and use of respiratory protective devices and clarifies the NIOSH definition of respirator-sealing surfaces.

The notice applies to all primary seals of tight-fitting full- and half-facepiece respirators and to tight-fitting respirator designs that rely on a neck dam seal.

According to NIOSH, facial hair that lies along the sealing area of a respirator—beards, sideburns, mustaches, or stubble—should not be permitted on employees who are required to wear respirators that rely on tight facepiece fit.

The notice warns that facial hair “growing in or protruding into the area of the primary sealing surfaces” of a respirator will prevent a good seal. Previously, the agency specified that facial hair “between the wearer’s skin and the sealing surfaces of the respirator” prevented a good seal.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Respiratory Protection Standard 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.134 paragraph (g)(1)(i) states, “The employer shall not permit respirators with tight-fitting facepieces to be worn by employees who have: Facial hair that comes between the sealing surface of the facepiece and the face or that interferes with valve function; or Any condition that interferes with the face-to-facepiece seal or valve function”.

The notice does not apply to loose-fitting hood or helmet respirator designs such as those used on powered air-purifying respirators, supplied air respirators, and constant-flow escape type self-contained breathing apparatus that use only capes or shrouds for primary seals.

This notice supersedes NIOSH’s Oct. 2, 2006, letter to all manufacturers on the agency’s policy for respirator sealing surfaces and facial hair.

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