NIOSH Updates Position on Facial Hair, Respirator Use

Published September 12, 2018

A notice published by NIOSH last month updates the agency’s position regarding facial hair and the selection and use of respiratory protective devices, and clarifies the NIOSH definition of respirator-sealing surfaces. The notice applies to all primary seals of tight-fitting full- and half-facepiece respirators and to tight-fitting respirator designs that rely on a neck dam seal.

According to NIOSH, facial hair that lies along the sealing area of a respirator—beards, sideburns, moustaches, or stubble—should not be permitted on employees who are required to wear respirators that rely on tight facepiece fit. The notice warns that facial hair “growing in or protruding into the area of the primary sealing surfaces” of a respirator will prevent a good seal. Previously, the agency specified that facial hair “between the wearer’s skin and the sealing surfaces of the respirator” prevented a good seal.

“Any degradation to the respirator seal will degrade the ability of the respirator to deliver protection, in effect it will have a reduced protection factor,” the notice reads. “A worker should not enter a contaminated work area when conditions prevent a good seal of the respirator facepiece to the face.”

The notice does not apply to loose-fitting hood or helmet respirator designs such as those used on powered air-purifying respirators, supplied air respirators, and constant-flow escape type self-contained breathing apparatus that use only capes or shrouds for primary seals.

This notice supersedes NIOSH’s Oct. 2, 2006, letter to all manufacturers on the agency’s policy for respirator sealing surfaces and facial hair. View the new notice on the agency’s website.