Respirator Fit and Facial Hair

I’ve been in occupational health for over 40 years and it’s hard to believe this topic continues to be raised.  Maybe it’s coming up again as a sign of the times.  Briefly, in 2006 NIOSH published a notice on its policy for respirator sealing surfaces and facial hair.  In November 2018, NIOSH revised its notice.

Before stating NIOSH’s position however, please understand that Cal/OSHA clearly states in Section 5144 that “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…”  NIOSH’s latest notice explains the agency’s position on facial hair.

This latest notice states that “facial hair that lies along the sealing area of the respirator, such as beards, sideburns, moustaches, or even more than one day or 24 hours of growth of stubble, should not be permitted on employees who are required to wear respirators that rely on tight facepiece fit.”  What is different is that NIOSH has now defined facial stubble as more than one day’s growth.

Other changes made by NIOSH in their notice define “primary seal” and “primary sealing surface” which will not be discussed here, but you can find the details of the notice on NIOSH’s website.  Of importance is that if an individual is required to wear a tight-fitting full-face or half-face respirator, he must be clean shaven.  The respirator is only effective if there is a good seal at the face, and that facial stubble of even one day can interfere with the respirator’s effectiveness.   Let us know if you have any questions.