Table of Contents
Respiratory Protection Standard
The primary goal of controlling occupational breathing hazards, such as harmful dust, fog, fumes, mists, gases, smoke, sprays, or vapors, is to stop contamination. This will, most likely, be performed by standard engineering control procedures. For example, confining the operation, general and local ventilation, and substitution of less toxic materials. By this rule, adequate respirators must be used when practical engineering controls cannot be carried out.
When such equipment is required to safeguard an employee’s health, it must be given to each employee. Each employee must receive the proper equipment when it’s necessary to protect their health. Respirators that are appropriate and fit for the intended use must be provided by the employer. The development and upkeep of a respiratory protection program must be handled by the employer. Each employee obliged to use a respirator under this clause is covered by the program.
Respiratory Fit Testing
You must go through a fit test if you’re required to wear a respirator. Fit testing is used to determine how well a respirator fits a person. A respirator is an essential piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) when working in a hazardous environment.
Face Fit Testing
Fit testing is an essential safety procedure for everyone who has to use a respirator at work. You’re at great risk if you don’t properly inspect the fit of their respirator before you begin working. Even though the health consequences aren’t always obvious immediately away, they can be fatal.
Respirator fit can change over time. If your respirator doesn’t fit, it doesn’t work. If the respirator changes or is damaged, or if the job changes, you will need another fit test. You could also need another fit test if you’ve had facial surgery, facial hair change, extensive dental work, lost a lot of weight, or had significant hairstyle changes. The fit of a respirator is impacted by each of these circumstances.
Visual Fit Check
A second person should assess the fit visually once you have made sure that your respirator is comfortable and fits properly. They should make sure your chin is in the right position and that the mask fits across your nasal bridge. They should also measure the size of the respirator against your face.
The straps should be snug but not too taut; excessive stress might obstruct circulation or cause the mask’s straps to snap, but the seal might be disrupted if the straps are not tight enough.
Finally, you must keep an eye on the respirator to detect whether it has a propensity to slide. This might imply that the seal is insufficient or weakened in some other way.
User Seal Test
Conduct a user seal check after ensuring that the respirator is fitted properly. Depending on the type and manufacturer of the respirator, this may be a positive or a negative pressure check.
A positive or negative pressure check and the manufacturer’s seal check techniques are the two types of seal inspections that are allowed. Whichever suits your equipment the best is up to you and your company to decide. Whichever seal check method you choose, you must be familiar with it and practice it every day before operations start.
Every day at the beginning of your shift, carry out this check. Additionally, you must conduct this check before taking any fit tests.
Qualitative Fit Testing
A qualitative fit test evaluates your ability to smell, taste, or physically respond to different chemicals while wearing a respirator. It determines your sensitivity to the test solution or chemical, then tests you with the same solution and concentration while wearing a mask. These techniques provide either pass or fail outcomes.
Quantitative Fit Testing
A quantitative fit test, instead of depending on the user’s senses, uses sophisticated testing equipment to statistically quantify the fit of your respirator. The gadget determines the quantity of leakage within your respirator. The computer then delivers a numerical number or percentage instead of the qualitative methods’ pass or fail format.
Can You Fail a Face Fit Test?
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) research supports the need for yearly examinations: After using the same brand, model, and size respirator for a year, 10% of the individuals failed a fit test.
Fit testing is a pass/fail test method that uses your sense of taste or smell or your reaction to an irritant to detect leakage into the respirator facepiece. The real quantity of leakage is not determined by qualitative fit testing. You need to notice a leak of the test material into your facepiece to determine if the respirator passes or fails the test.
Half-mask respirators, or ones that just cover your mouth and nose, are frequently subjected to qualitative fit testing. Filtering facepiece respirators, sometimes known as N95s, and elastomeric respirators are both examples of half-mask respirators.
If the respirator doesn’t pass the fit test, you must try a different brand, model, style, or size until you find one that is comfortable for you. As a result, your company must give you access to a reasonable range of sizes and models. It’s crucial to understand which brand, model, style, and size of respirator best suits your face after the fit testing procedure, as well as when and where you’ll need to use it for protection.
Eating or drinking before your fit test can impair your ability to identify the taste of the solution. It can even result in you failing the screening and having to use an alternative method. As a result, there are tight limits about what you can eat and drink before the real fit test. For at least 15 minutes before the fit test, do not eat, drink (other than plain water), smoke, or chew gum.
Fit Test Exercises
Throughout the fit testing process, employers have certain obligations. Their first responsibility is making sure the person conducting the exam has the necessary skills and knowledge to do so. This person must be able to calibrate and examine equipment, correctly conduct the test, and identify invalid tests. Employers must also make sure the test equipment is maintained and kept clean. This enables the machinery to function within its intended limitations.
The fit test requires a few exercises to determine how well you can move while wearing the respirator. These activities also support your ability to use the respirator while doing routine tasks. Each of these exercises must be done for a full minute. The test conductor will ask about your comfort with the respirator when all the exercises are complete.
The general test exercises that you will be required to perform during a fit test are as follows: normal breathing, deep breathing, head turns, head up and down movements, talking, the grimace test (only for quantitative testing), bending over, and normal breathing.
Except for the grimace exercise, carry out each exercise for one minute. Additionally, during the motion-based tasks, the person conducting the test will tell you to pause and take a breath.
- Breathing – The test conductor will ask you to start by breathing normally while wearing your respirator. You’ll take a deep breath after that. These breaths make sure you can manage the respirator’s different breathing requirements.
- Head Motion – The two tests that follow check your ability to move your head freely while wearing a respirator. You will first turn your head from side to side, stopping to breathe on either side. Next, you must glance both up and down, pausing to take a breath when gazing up.
- Talking – You will then be asked to speak while wearing the respirator. You must speak clearly and loudly enough for the test administrator to hear and understand you. You can recite a song or poem, or you can count backwards from 100.
- Bending Over – The test administrator will then instruct you to crouch down at the waist and pretend to touch your toes. This allows you to assess how securely the respirator is fastened to your head. You can jog in place if your testing setting does not allow you to bend over.
- Normal Breathing – After doing all the preceding exercises, you will perform another round of regular breathing. This is exactly what you did when you started the test activities.
What Does OSHA Say About Facial Hair?
According to OSHA, employers shall not permit respirators with tight-fitting face-pieces to be worn by employees who have facial hair that comes between the sealing surface of the face-piece and the face or that interferes with valve function. This involves light beard growth or stubble.
Facial Hair: How Much Power Do Employers Have?
While OSHA’s standards don’t outright forbid facial hair, it does mandate that employers ensure bearded workers required to wear tight-fitting facepieces keep their beards trimmed. This is to keep the beard from getting in the way of the respirator’s seal or getting too big to obstruct any valve function.
Beards can interfere with the proper fit of required dust masks and the initial testing process. The regulation is intended to protect employees, not to impose a ban on fashion. Legally, companies may demand that male employees shave so long as doing so does not violate their civil rights or place an unreasonable burden on them.
Can a Respirator Seal With a Beard?
According to NIOSH, beards, sideburns, and mustaches that extend along the sealing region of a respirator will interfere with respirators that rely on a tight facepiece fit to deliver optimal protection. Hair must not grow in the regions of skin that touch the nosecup seal, neck seal, or facial seal.
Even if another seal is being used as the primary seal (such as a neck seal), the nosecup must not come into contact with facial hair if the unit has been approved with a nosecup in place and has passed NIOSH CO2 and fogging tests. A clean-shaven sealing surface at the nosecup is required for respirator setups using hood-style facepieces that have passed testing and certification by NIOSH.
Any respirator producer that makes false claims, such as marketing a snug-fitting full facepiece or hooded SCBA unit with a nose cup for wearers with facial hair, risks having their NIOSH clearance revoked.
Can You Pass a N95 Fit Test With a Beard?
“Do I need to shave for a face fit exam” is a question thrown around often, from both employers and workers. You can pass a N95 fit test with a beard as long as your facial hair doesn’t obstruct the respirator’s valve or protrude behind the seal.
According to the Respiratory Protection standard, facial hair that covers the facepiece sealing surface or that obstructs valve operation is not permitted when using a respirator. As we said before, facial hair is permitted as long as it doesn’t protrude under the respirator seal, or extend far enough to interfere with the device’s valve function. Short sideburns, small goatees, and short mustaches that are carefully groomed such that no hair breaches the seal of the respirator often don’t cause a hazard and don’t violate OSHA rules.
In general, beards pose major issues for tight-fitting facepiece respirators because of their daily variations in texture and density, which make a respirator fit unstable and increase the risk of leakage. However, several other types of respirators, such as loose-fitting powered air-purifying respirators, and hooded powered air-purifying respirators, don’t need a face seal and may be used with facial hair.
What is Acceptable Facial Hair?
Starting with appropriate facial hair, the majority of mustaches and sideburns do not pose problems. There is little to no room for facial hair when it comes to wearing a respirator. Although many men like to have facial hair, beards prevent a proper respirator fit. There are just a handful of facial hair styles that are permitted. This means the majority of the trendy, popular styles are not allowed. It is in the employees’ best interest to keep clean-shaven while working.
The only permissible facial hair is a short, neatly groomed mustache or a beard that borders only the employee’s mouth. That includes goatees or modest, well-kept beards that can fit inside a respirator. Any facial hair on the cheeks or under the chin is not permitted when using a respirator. Things get more complicated when we hit the “goatee” category. There are frequent compromises to be made with a little bit of tidying up here and there and a slightly wider mask to achieve skin contact beneath the chin.
In order to create an “airtight” seal between the mask and the wearer’s face, we cannot contemplate anything being “in-between” these two surfaces that may cause leakage. Beard hair can nullify the use of a respirator. The underlying problem here is that air particles are just too small. The respirator cannot provide adequate protection against gases, particles, and other undesirable airborne contaminants without a secure fit.
Too often workers will only shave for the fit test. Mustaches and beards can be any length before and after the fit test. It can’t be overstated that you must always be suitably clean-shaven when performing work that requires a tight-fitting respirator. The law is explicit that the wearer of a respirator must have shaved their face within eight hours of the start of their shift if there is facial hair along the sealing surface. On fit testing day, your beard shouldn’t be any longer than it would be on any other day of the year. Inspectors from the HSE will find any employer who doesn’t ensure a worker is clean shaven to be in violation of OSHA regulations.
Since the mask only seals where we need to be clean-shaven, the industry is now potentially open to some rather unusual growth tendencies. Unfortunately, we doubt that fans of beards will adopt this fashion.
What Are the Options for Employees With Beards?
Depending on the resources and respiratory protection strategy at your workplace, some bearded employees may have choices if they don’t want to shave. Some faiths (such as some sects of Islam and Sikhism) regard a full beard to be vital and require it as a part of their religious practice.
A bearded employee could be allowed to wear a hooded respirator such as Powered Air-Purifying Respirators even if tight-fitting facepieces demand a clean-shaven face (PAPR). Most PAPRs allow wearers with various kinds of facial hair to breathe comfortably and stay safe while on the job. However, PAPRs aren’t sufficient protection from many workplace hazards. A thorough risk analysis is vital to figuring out whether any alternative solutions are acceptable.
In the end, the safety manager and human resources should work with the employee to locate a suitable employment that doesn’t need respiratory protection if they don’t want to shave their face. If all fit testing and user requirements are not fulfilled, OSHA permits employers to remove workers from jobs requiring respiratory protection.
What We Can Do to Help
Hard Hat Training aims to assist employers in maintaining both alignment and the safety of their staff. Using OSHA and ANSI standards, our trainers and inspectors created each of our online courses. Our online training program for Respiratory Protection offers a comprehensive, in-depth, and efficient approach to learn how to work safely. In order to set you and your team up for not just a successful fit testing day but a successful every day, we strive to help you in any way we can.