Since Alexander the Great, beards have cycled in and out of fashion. Today, beards are clearly in style, especially during the colder months. According to The Huffington Post, “beards make men look older, more respected, of a higher status, and even powerful.” Unfortunately, facial hair can also pose a safety hazard in some situations.
- Dusty environments call for the use of a respirator. However, facial hair can compromise the respirator seal as well as its valve function.
- Rotating equipment such as saws and drill presses pose a safety hazard in many ways. These include the potential for entanglement with loose hair and clothing.
Let’s look at both of these concerns as well as how to safely address them.
Facial Hair and Respirators
Mustaches usually aren’t a point of concern when well maintained and when they don’t come in contact with the respirator seal or interfere with exhalation valves. Beards, however, often do interfere in these ways and pose a safety hazard.
The OSHA Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134) says that facial hair can fall under the respirator straps. Also, facial hair can be significant on other areas of the face as long as it does not interfere with the respirator seal or proper functioning. However, the standard also states:
The employer cannot permit respirators with tight-fitting facepieces to be worn by the employees who have facial hair that comes between the sealing surface of the facepiece and the face, or that interferes with valve function.
OSHA requires employers have a respirator usage plan that includes facial hair policies. In addition, the policy needs reviewed not just at the time of hire and during an annual fit test but also periodically throughout the year. Thomas Galassi, Directorate of Enforcement Programs at OSHA, explains why.
“The fit that is achieved with a beard or facial hair is unpredictable; it may change daily depending on growth of the hair and position of the hair at the time the fit is tested.”
Hair needs trimmed or shaved to meet OSHA standards and avoid fines. In addition, respirators that do not fit properly can cause workers to develop health issues from breathing in dust and contaminants.
The bottom line regarding facial hair and respirators involves achieving a proper fit to protect workers. Most workplaces allow facial hair based on individual preferences when it doesn’t interfere with respirators.
Facial Hair and Rotating Equipment
Most equipment normally has safety guards. However, hair can fit between guard mesh and be drawn into moving parts. For this reason, take caution when tasks require individuals to get close to rotating machinery.
The OSHA Fact Sheet on Personal Protective Equipment sums up OSHA’s policy regarding facial hair around machines.
“OSHA regulations require employers to ensure that workers cover and protect long hair to prevent it from getting caught in machine parts such as belts and chains.”
Since this is pretty general, it’s a good idea for employers to conduct a hazard assessment. This assessment should include how to manage long hair and facial hair safety concerns. Options include removing facial hair or tying it back. A formal policy can regularly make sure all hair is a length that doesn’t pose a hazard.
Embrace the Beard
Facial hair continues as a popular way for men to express themselves. Many men also claim it keeps their faces warm in cold weather. It’s okay for most men to embrace the beard. However, long facial hair is always not a good idea if you wear a respirator or are anywhere near rotating equipment on a regular basis.