The question of whether facial hair is permitted when having a face fit test, or when wearing a mask, is one that is raised with us time and time again.
Is facial hair permitted ?
No. 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.
This is the same both during a fit test and when wearing the mask for work.
How do you define facial hair / what does clean shaven actually mean ?
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. An older version of HSG 53 stated that a beard was defined as more than 24 hours growth - however this statement is not included in the current version and would not be appropriate for many individuals.
Clean shaven should be defined as smooth. A persons face should be smooth (i.e. no detectable facial hair or stubble) in the area where the seal meets the skin.
Small moustaches and goatee beards are permitted providing that they do not meet or interfere with the seal. 3M gives some great guidance in this in their 'Movember' promotional video.
Why is facial hair not permitted ?
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 found on the HSE website.
Why can't the fit test prove/disprove if facial hair makes a difference ?
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.
What are the alternatives ?
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 (pictured below) may be a good alternative to filtering half masks, however, these are not suitable for all applications.
To book an individual test or group session
To book just call us on 01925 244144 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll guide you through the process.
Sources of further information
The HSE document, 'INDG 460, Is Your Mask Protecting You?' has some useful tips for wearers.
The HSE document, 'Fit Testing of Respiratory Protective Facepieces, OC282/28', gives information on the legal requirement for testing and lays down the protocol for carrying out a test.
The HSE document, 'HSG 53, Respiratory Protective Equipment at Work', gives guidance on the selection and use of RPE.
Our information page contains news, legal requirements and free downloads - www.csts.co.uk/face-fit-explained/