A 5 o’clock shadow may look good, but that stubble can break the seal of a tight-fitting respirator, allowing contaminated air to pass through the filter.

A 5 o’clock shadow may look good, but that stubble can break the seal of a tight-fitting respirator. Tight-fitting respirators need to tightly seal around the face or neck to provide clean breathing air to the user. Small gaps caused by facial hair can compromise that seal. However, stubble isn’t the only offender – beards, moustaches, sideburns, and any other hair can cause gaps in the seal, too. That tiny space allows contaminated air to pass through the seal, going straight into the lungs instead of being filtered through the respirator cartridge. Someone using a tight-fitting respirator with a bit of facial hair may think they’re protected from the harmful air, but their respirator is unable to perform its basic function to clean the air they are breathing in.

What’s the Danger?

NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety in the United States, declares “facial hair under the sealing surface causes 20 to 1,000 times more leakage compared to clean-shaven individuals.” Toxic particulates vary within each work environment, but they remain poisonous all the same. Toxic particulates from dust, gases, vapors, smoke, and fumes can be undetectable, leaving workers without proper respiratory protection when exposed to hazardous chemicals. Some particulates such as silica dust, beryllium, and welding fumes are tinier than the thickness of a human hair, meaning they can slip through a tight-fitting respirator seal broken by the growth of said human hair.

Check out the infographic below to see the ramifications of facial hair when wearing a tight-fitting respirator and an option to keep you safe when working around dangerous materials, such as silica:


Previously Featured on RPB Safety's blog.

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