Can wearer stubble affect the performance of Respiratory Protective Equipment?

Selection of adequate tight-fitting respiratory protective equipment (RPE) focusses on the need to provide the required respiratory protection for the present hazard(s). However, the level of protection provided by these types of RPE can be significantly reduced if the user has facial hair in the area of the face seal.

Despite advice to the contrary in HSE guidance and elsewhere, workers with varying degrees of facial hair growth using tight fitting RPE are still found in UK workplaces.

RPE manufacturers (including 3M) communicate the need to be clean shaven under the area of the face seal in user instructions and other documents and a recent study from the HSE has reaffirmed this. The report confirmed that stubble from as early as 24 hours after shaving can impact on the efficiency of RPE. Read on to learn more.


The study

This research was designed to assess the effect of stubble growth on the level of protection given by FFP3 disposable respirators and half mask reusable respirators. Fifteen male volunteers took part, and were tested with a range of tight-fitting RPE during the course of the week as their facial hair grew.

The respirators included in the study were selected for their variation of faceseal designs. Fit tests were carried out immediately after shaving on day one and repeated six times during the week as stubble grew.

The results and conclusions

The results indicated that the effect on protection varies depending on the wearer and mask combination but the HSE have confirmed that stubble from as early as 24 hours after shaving can impact the efficiency of tight fitting RPE.

The HSE’s conclusion is that their current guidance is justified – wearers must be clean shaven in the area of the faceseal when wearing tight fitting respirators.


Educating workforces

Certain industries have been quicker to adopt clean shaven policies, particularly those working with asbestos and those in the oil and gas sector. However, some sectors still require advice on how to reinforce the importance of being clean shaven when using certain types of RPE.

To do this effectively, education is key. By explaining the risks and engaging with workers about the issue, they are much more likely to understand why they need to shave every day to stay safe.


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One thought on “Can wearer stubble affect the performance of Respiratory Protective Equipment?”

  1. I did not realize that facial hair could affect this type of thing. This is good to know, because my husband often has stubble, and he has just gotten a job that would require him to wear something like this. I’m also curious, would hair length or any hairstyle also have an effect? Thank you for all of the helpful information and explaining this research so thoroughly.

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