Should You Ban the Beard or Find Better Respiratory Protection?
The current trend for beards and stubble amongst men has resulted in increased challenges for finding complete respiratory protection for an increasing number of the workforce. Full respiratory protection masks, helmets and respirators need to properly fit the face of your wearers in order to keep them safe.
Unfortunately, many simply aren’t designed for people with facial hair. That’s why major players in the construction sector have banned beards among the workforce. This has provoked widespread frustration and opened up difficult conversations around subjects including worker rights and religious sensitivities.
However, creating a culture of safety in your organisation is about more than PPE. It is about engaging your workforce, giving them products they are happy to wear, and empowering individuals in the workforce to behave safely whilst allowing them to retain their personal choices on facial hair to fit the restrictions of your equipment.
Beards and facial hair create several challenges when it comes to respiratory protection. In our opinion, the answer isn’t banning facial hair altogether, but using expert guidance, training, and product innovation to keep people safe.
Facial hair and negative pressure respiratory protection
In order for negative pressure respiratory protection like half-masks, full face masks and disposable respirators to be compliant, all wearers must be face-fit tested. Yet, in the eyes of the Health and Safety Executive, only clean-shaven faces can be properly face fitted, because facial hair will compromise the seal, and therefore compromise the safety of the wearer.
This can present a serious challenge in delivering effective protection. Even where an initial face fit was conducted, people may not feel to need to be clean-shaven every day or may choose to grow a beard at a later date. As a result, what constitutes effective, compliant protection at the time of testing may quickly become insufficient.
Is banning the beard really an option?
In 2017, construction giant Mears banned workers from having beards or facial hair so that they could wear dust masks effectively. Surprisingly this strategy is legal and acceptable. Even if the ban is indirectly discriminative this can be justified if it is a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’, according to commercial solicitors MLP Law.
In this sense, banning beards and facial hair is a valid strategy for improving respiratory protection. However, any comprehensive Health & Safety strategy will consider the wider impact of such a ban on morale, motivation, wearer acceptance, and behaviour.
Above all else, wearers need to be engaged and on-board with your safety initiatives. They need to be empowered to behave safely and confident that you are taking responsible, fair steps to build a safety culture.
A badly received, such as a beard ban, has the potential to undermine confidence in your entire Health & Safety strategy. With the availability of alternative solutions, a ban seems to come with unnecessarily high risk.
In addition, beards are just one of several issues with face fit testing - according to the HSE, a face fit may fail because of a person’s scars, chiseled profile, face shape, or features. These issues simply can’t be solved without a fresh look at your PPE and the types of respirator you use.
Complete Respiratory Protection for Workers with Beards
Our recommended solution for respiratory protection for workers with beards is high-performance respirators that do not require face-fir testing. At Anchor Safety, we have partnered with PureFlo to provide a range of lightweight respirators with integrated head, eye and respiratory protection. Unlike negative pressure respiratory protection, these innovative products eliminate the need for face fit testing by covering the entire head at once.
The PureFlo range includes air-fed respirators, powered air purifying respirators, and particulate respirators (as well as a choice of headtops, filters, and visors). This means we can tailor PureFlo to match end-user requirements, guaranteeing the best possible fit with or without a beard.
Key advantages include:
- A lightweight, all-in-one solution
- No cumbersome waist-mounted blower
- No hoses or risk of snags
- 8-hour battery life to cover an entire shift
In many cases, PureFlo is more cost-effective than endless spending on disposable masks. All the while keeping your people safe with protection that keeps them comfortable – not a policy change that pushes them away.
Find out more about PureFlo respirators.