Did you know that beards, stubble and facial hair of any kind can interfere with your tight-fitting RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment)?
“The presence of facial hair in the region of the faceseal will significantly reduce the protection provided” – Health and Safety Executive, OC282/28
Supported by a number of scientific tests and studies, this fact led the European Standard EN 529 (annex D.4.2) to advise that tight-fitting facepieces should only be worn by someone who is clean shaven. That is, someone who has shaved within 8 hours of starting their shift.
While some hospital staff will be required to use RPE daily in their line of work – others may only need to use RPE once or twice a year. With this in mind, we’re often asked the question:
What should I do about shaving if I don’t know when I’ll need to use RPE?
Below we take a look at three possible approaches to beards in the workplace:
Ban the beard
Some organisations have decided that a companywide ban on facial hair in the workforce is the answer. To ensure the safety of their workforce and guarantee no breaches of compliance.
Construction firm Mears is one such company, stating that the beard ban was to ensure all worked could “wear appropriate dust masks effectively”.
Explaining the decision, Mark Elkington said to the Guardian newspaper:
“Every employer in the UK has a legal responsibility to ensure that employees working in dusty or otherwise potentially hazardous environments are properly protected and in recent years employers have been prosecuted for failing to fulfil this duty.
“If one of our workers suffers respiratory illness as a result of a poor fitting mask that is our responsibility. We place the safety of our workers at the top of the priority list.”
However, it’s important to remember that being clean-shaven isn’t the only requirement for wearing tight-fitting RPE. Even without facial hair the mask you’ve selected might not fit your face. You must pass a Fit Test on the make and model of tight-fitting RPE before wearing it in the workplace to ensure it fits and will work effectively.
Although forced shaving could work for the majority of the workforce, it won’t work for everyone. What about those who cannot clean shave for religious or medical reasons?
Another possible response is to excuse bearded workers from tasks that require RPE.
While excusing a person from seeing the infected patient is certainly safer than sending them into a hazardous situation unprotected; many hospitals simply do not have the spare staff to allow people to abstain from such activities. And in some cases, that staff member may be the only person qualified to perform a particular procedure or assessment.
Since a beard-ban would not work for everyone, and excusing staff from RPE-required situations is not always practical, what’s left?
A third option, which overcomes the shortcomings of the first two, is powered respirators with loose-fitting hoods.
Usable both by people who have beards and by people who have not been Fit Tested, loose-fitting respirators – such as Full Support’s RPE Particulate Kits, RPE Grab Bags and RPE Chemical Kits – are an ideal solution for people who do not regularly require RPE, have a beard or have not been Fit Tested.
Unlike tight-fitting masks, these respirators rely on powered fans to force contaminated air through a filter and circulate it within a hood or helmet. Due to the force of the air flow, contaminated air cannot enter into the breathing area despite there being no tight-fitting seal.
For more information about loose-fitting respirators and our RPE Kits, please click here.