You need to wear a half mask respirator? Shave first!

You need to wear a half mask respirator? Shave first!

8/10/2015 - SPI

A half mask respirator cannot protect you if it doesn’t fit your face. Some respirators, known as tight-fitting respirators, must form a tight seal with your face or neck to function properly.

If your hasf mask respirator does not fit you properly, contaminated air will seep into your protective mask and you could inhale hazardous substances. So before wearing a half mask respirator, your must make sure your protective mask is right for you. You can do this by performing a fit test while you wear the same brand, the same model and the same respirator size that you will use at work. That way, you know that your half mask respirator is fine and can protect you, as long as you use it properly.

The fact that you must shave before wearing an air-tight respiratory protective mask is a well-known recommendation. But due to the opposition of certain workers, the British government decided to conduct an extensive study to assess the needs to continue with this practice. The findings, recently released, are unequivocal.

Half mask respirators: undeniable leaks

A beard will cause leakage around any standard half mask respirator. The respirator's effectiveness will vary depending on how thick your beard is and how tightly the respirator fits over your beard, but we must keep in mind that air will follow the path of least resistance, so with a beard, the half mask respirator won't provide anywhere near the filtration levels advertised on the package. While some air will probably still pass through the filter, if it’s easier for the air to flow through your beard than through the respirator's filter, the respirator won't be very effective.

Only after 24 hours, the stubble effect may start to be problematic. Every day that goes by without shaving intensifies the problem.

Several protective masks were tested on different face shapes. Thus, the results varied greatly. However, remember that in all cases, after seven days without shaving, the half mask respirators had an inward leakage of more than 1%. This means that the air inside had more than 1% of undesirable particles!

Important variations according to the PROTECTIVE mask

1% of all half mask respirators may seem pretty low, but it is enough to constitute a danger. However, consider that contaminants can take many forms (gas, vapours, and particles) and have high toxicity levels as in the case of carcinogenic or sensitizing substances for the respiratory tract that induce asthma. Moreover, occupational diseases are evolving according to different national and international studies.

Even worse, certain half mask respirators leak up to 6% of particles after only four days. In other cases, the stubble growth increased by 50% the risk of inward leakage day by day.

It was also noted that for jobs where there is a frequent need to move the head, having stubble increases the probability to create a leak.

Take your precautions

Of course, for a short period, certain participants did not notice any leakage. However, it is impossible to predict with accuracy which individual is more in danger compared to another and after how many hours the danger becomes real. If a worker with a beard, or even stubble, manages to tighten down his half mask respirator to pass a fit test once, it doesn’t matter because the regulations requires that you may not have facial hair that could interfere with the seal of a facepiece. So although a worker might pass the fit test on a particular day, facial hair still represents an unacceptable risk of breaking the mask’s face seal. Even a day or two’s growth of stubble for some individuals can be enough to give significant leak paths for contaminants. It is not true to say that hair is “very fine” and aids the filtering process. The size of particles that is most dangerous to the lungs is far too small to be caught by a few human hairs.

What is the solution? Don’t take any risk. Demand a daily shave or use a a positive pressure respirator, also called a supplied air respirator. This type of respirator pulls air in through a filter and exhausts the filtered air inside the respirator, producing continuous outward leakage.. These allow for the whole head to be covered and the seal to be under the chin or around the neck. A Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) with suitable filters or a supplied airline system, with a hood or helmet style head top as needed, can be worn by these individuals to give the necessary respiratory protection.

For more advice on mask fit testing and the safe way to wear a protective mask, contact us!