To beard or not to beard? The past 12 months may go down in history as the ‘year of the beard’. The fashion, it seems, suggests that the bushier the beard, the trendier the wearer. But where does this leave employers who need to provide the right respiratory protection for their workers?

The trend for beards is so popular that, in late 2014, the Express newspaper reported that the fashion for a beard “cut sales of shaving products by whopping £72m”. We can’t verify the accuracy of the report, but we can point out that the beardy trend is so extreme that people are actually looking at the effect this craze is having on business and respiratory protection.

Perhaps we all should. Because it seems there’s no end in sight for the popularity of the bushy beard. And many of your male employees may have adopted the latest fashion, so it’s important to consider their safety in the workplace. Masks, helmets or respirators, for example, need to properly fit the face of the wearer. A mask that fits a clean-shaven man may no longer protect one who chooses to grow a full beard. And some simply aren’t designed for people with facial hair, hence, it’s important to factor this in to your purchase.

Challenges with fitting respiratory masks

There are many factors that compromise the face-fit pass rate of respiratory masks and respirators. Richard Beardsley is the Product Specialist for PPE at Alpha Solway - a leading manufacturer of PPE and an Anchor Safety partner. Richard explains that the body responsible for the regulations and enforcement of workplace safety, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), is particularly strict when it comes to ensuring organisations' employees have properly fitting masks. “In the eyes of the HSE, only clean-shaven faces can be properly face fitted, because facial hair will compromise the seal and therefore compromise the safety of the wearer,” he says.

The difficulty for businesses is understanding how this regulation is applied outside of face fitting or face-fit training environments. People working on construction sites may not feel the need to be clean shaven every day. Others may prefer to grow beards for cultural or religious reasons or, indeed, for fashion.

Respiratory protection products that solve the problem

Anchor Safety supplies Betafit  3030V  respiratory masks.  It is designed to achieve a very high face-fit pass rate because of its innovative and forgiving design. We believe it has the highest face fit pass rate of any disposable respirator we sell.

But, as Richard explains, in an industry where an ill-fitting mask can potentially be very dangerous, we can’t assume a one-size-fits-all approach. People have different types of facial hair. Often, moustaches or small goatee beards have little impact on the effectiveness of a mask as long as the individual is clean shaven in the area of the face seal. The wearer of a full, bushy beard or a face of stubble, however, is unlikely to pass a face fit regardless of which mask they're using. And it’s not just beards that can pose a problem. According to the HSE, a face fit may fail because of a person’s scars, chiselled profile, face shape or features.

These are all reasons why the face fit programme is so important. Businesses can’t rely on a single product to solve all facial hair challenges. The best option is for wearers to be clean shaven, but where that’s not possible, there are other alternatives that might solve the problem. If removal or reduction of facial hair is not an option, a business might choose to deploy the individual to an area of work away from respiratory hazard. Alternatively, you could issue a battery powered respiratory system with a head top that has an elasticated/loose fitting seal that does not require face fit testing.

Find out more

The British Safety Industry Federation (BSiF) has developed a scheme called Fit2Fit which confirms the competency of anyone who fit-tests respiratory equipment. Alpha Solway also offers a train-the-trainer programme in accordance with Fit2Fit guidelines. For more on fit-testing laws or safety equipment, the following HSE guides may help:

We understand the need for the right protection and what’s required for different jobs. And as we’ve learned, there’s more to consider than just the specifics of the job itself – we need to think carefully about the individual who’s wearing the safety equipment too. We can help you understand the facts associated with fitting masks, so please get in touch.