OHD Blog

Respiratory Mask Fit Testing with Facial Hair

Aug 7, 2017

The OHD Quantifit: ohdusa.com/products/quantifit

Here at OHD, LLLP we manufacture, distribute and sell the Quantifit; the world’s most health protective and fastest mask fit test system available. The Quantifit takes only 3 minutes to complete a full respiratory fit test using our patented controlled negative pressure technology. Not only is the Quantifit the fastest test, it provides the most rigorous and health protective mask fit test available. Per OSHA Standards, paragraph 29 CFR 1910.134 (A) states that “respirators shall not be worn when facial hair comes between the sealing surface of the facepiece and the face or that interferes with valve function.”

Below is an article from “Health and Safety Magazine” with responses from Honeywell’s Senior Product Marketing Manager Victoria Frank regarding Respirator Fit Test and Facial Hair.

"If I can get a worker with facial hair to pass a quantitative fit test using a PortaCount, can I then allow that worker to wear the full facepiece without him needing to shave?

The short answer? Absolutely not.

This question comes up quite a bit, especially now that it’s popular and fashionable for men to have facial hair.

A PortaCount is a machine that measures air pressure inside the mask. If you have a worker with a beard, or even stubble, and he manages to tighten down his respirator to pass a PortaCount test once, it doesn’t matter because the NIOSH requirement states that you may not have facial hair that would interfere with the seal of a facepiece.

Although a worker might pass the PortaCount on a particular day, facial hair still represents an unacceptable risk of breaking the mask’s face seal. Really, the worker needs to be clean-shaven. The exceptions might be a small “soul patch” underneath the lip or a mustache so small that the seal of the mask never touches it.

Two methods are used for fit testing – qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative is less expensive and easy to administer, but the Assigned Protection Factor for the mask is rated at a lower level. (Details on qualitative fit testing can be found in the OSHA standards on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.)

Some work environments have known health risks because of exposures to certain contaminants. In these instances, employers may use a more stringent fit-test method and quantitatively test workers with a PortaCount.

Annual fit testing (per OSHA 1910.134 App A) with a PortaCount machine usually takes 20 minutes per worker. The worker dons the respirator that has a probe and tube that connects with the PortaCount. The worker completes a series of exercises – looking side to side, bending over, grimacing, etc. – to test if he or she can break the seal. If the seal remains intact, the worker has successfully fit tested with that style mask in that particular size. Workers cannot substitute the mask for a different size or style without additional fit testing.

Immediate fit testing would be required for employees who have significant changes to their facial shape that might affect the fit of their respirator. This includes weight fluctuations of 10 pounds or more, new dentures, facial scars or piercings. The worker would have to be fit tested again.

In all instances, however, facial hair never is allowed. If a worker refuses to shave, he cannot work in the contaminated area using a tight-fitting facepiece. The supervisor may have the worker reassigned to another area not requiring respiratory protection. Or, in cases where employees’ skills are valuable, employers may allow those workers to keep their beards if they change to a hood. However, a hood can’t take cartridges or filters – it requires a positive pressure solution (powered air purifying or supplied air). Both of these options are more expensive and more complicated to use and maintain.

Respiratory protection is serious business. For this reason, facial hair with a full facepiece – regardless of fit-test results – remains an absolute “no.”"

OHD’s primary response to this article is why and how are people being able to pass quantitative fit tests with facial hair? And WHY is it taking 20 minutes to complete ONE test?

The OHD Quantifit makes this a non-issue due to our Controlled Negative Pressure technology not allowing a passing fit factor with individuals who have facial hair that protrudes under the respirator seal breaking the seal of the mask.  This highlights the main benefit of the OHD device; the Quantifit is the only fit test method that uses air / pressure on the mask to check for leakage. 

Respiratory Protection is serious business. It’s not just about passing people for their yearly fit test. The primary outcome of a fit test is to find the right fitting respirator that provides the highest level of safety for you and your employees!

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(July, 2017) Safety+Health Magazine. Honeywell, Victoria Frank via website

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Topics: OSHA, fit testing, respiratory, OHD Quantifit - Mask Respiratory Fit Testing