Do I have to shave my beard for mask fit testing?

By Adrianna MacPherson | Last updated: April 6, 2023

A mask fit test is designed to ensure that the respirator mask selected for an individual employee fits correctly. A properly fitted mask is essential to allow the employee to comfortably and safely perform his or her job tasks. Before a mask is approved for use by an individual, testing must demonstrate that it meets the minimum fit factor standard for that person. An employee may be required to remove facial hair before the mask fit test to assure the accuracy of testing. Whether shaving is necessary for an individual employee will depend on the location of the facial hair and the type of mask selected for testing.

Respirator masks are required for jobs in which there is a risk that the employee will be exposed to harmful airborne contaminants. Chemical cartridge, or gas masks, with tight-fitting face pieces work by filtering the air entering the mask as the wearer inhales. However, this type of respirator is only effective if all the air entering the mask passes through the filter. If the mask is not completely sealed against the face of the user, unfiltered air will enter the user's breathing space and bring contaminants with it.

Facial hair such as a beard, sideburns, or hair at the temples, becomes problematic when it interferes with the seal or fit of the respirator mask. Because many airborne contaminants are significantly smaller than a single human hair, any facial hair that breaks the respirator mask's seal can create a passageway through which contaminants can pass. Further, since the position and amount of facial hair are subject to daily change, any fit achieved during testing could not be used to predict the fit of the mask for ongoing usage. To ensure the best protection, there should be no hair growth between the skin and the faceplate sealing surface.

A beard may not need to be completely removed if it does not fall within the area where the respirator's face piece seals against the user's skin. Nonetheless, an individual employer may require that respiratory mask users remove beards to reduce the risk of danger to the employee caused by a poor seal. For instance, the FAA requires pilots and cockpit personnel to be clean shaven so that they can quickly put on the plane's equipped oxygen masks in the event of an emergency. A large beard, mustache, or other facial hair that when contained inside the face mask interferes with the user's ability to see, breathe, communicate, or will interfere with the mask's operation, should be trimmed.

Beard removal is not necessary when using a hooded or loose-fitting respirator or positive pressure respirator.

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