The Clean Shaven Imperative for Respiratory Protective Equipment Use and Fit Testing, Also Adhering to Australian Standards AS/NZS 1715
Are you questioning the need to shave for a respirator face fit test?
In the realm of occupational health and safety, the significance of respiratory fit testing cannot be overstated. It acts as a crucial process to ensure that respiratory protective equipment forms an effective seal against airborne contaminants. Among the essential protocols outlined by Australian standards, particularly AS/NZS 1715:2009, one notable requirement stands out – the insistence on being clean-shaven during fit testing and each time a respirator is worn. Let's delve into the detailed rationale behind this imperative, understanding the nuances of why facial hair and a proper seal are incompatible.
Understanding the Fit Testing Process
A respiratory fit test involves evaluating the seal between the wearer's face and the respirator. It ensures that the protective equipment is personalized to the individual's facial features, providing optimal defense against potentially harmful particles. The efficacy of fit testing lies in the assurance of a proper seal, and any interference with this seal can compromise the entire purpose of the respiratory protective equipment.
Industries that work with hazardous materials such as asbestos, silica dust, gases, vapours and fumes or organisations working in the healthcare sector exposed to viruses and infectious diseases should have a facial hair policy when wearing RPE.
Workers who do not wish to comply to the requirement to the clean shaven when wearing RPE can opt for a loose-fitting Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) which doe not require a fit test and healthcare workers can use CleanSpace HALO PAPR or adopt the Singh Thattha beard wrap technique (only accepted in healthcare).
Facial Hair and the Seal Dilemma
Facial hair, particularly beards, long sideburns and some moustaches introduce a significant obstacle to achieving a secure seal. The presence of facial hair creates gaps and impedes the respirator's ability to form a tight seal against the face/skin. In the event of exposure to airborne contaminants, these gaps become potential entry points, rendering the respiratory protective equipment less effective.
Studies have shown that the presence of facial hair can significantly reduce the expected levels of protection.
Bearded wearers can experience as much as a 330 fold drop in the RPE’s level of protection.
It has been said that facial hair can increase the leakage from 20 times to 1000.
Respirator filters cannot do their job and effectively clean the air you breathe if it bypasses them and pulls through gaps caused by an improper seal.
These are confronting stats that reveal how critical it is to be clean shaven when wearing your RPE.
How Bad Can It Be To Breathe In Some Particles?
Understanding the distinction between inhalable and respirable particles is crucial in assessing their potential health implications and implementing appropriate RPE and measures to mitigate exposure. Respiratory protection and workplace safety measures are designed considering these particle sizes to ensure the well-being of individuals exposed to various environments and occupational settings.
Inhalable particles are those that are generally larger in size, typically with a diameter less than 100 micrometres (100 μm).
Respirable particles are much smaller in size, typically with a diameter less than 10 micrometres (smaller than 2.5 µm). It is these particles which pose the greatest risk as our
bodies aren’t capable of expelling them, they can penetrate the body’s natural
defences in the upper respiratory tract and can enter the bloodstream, causing
potential systemic effects.
A human hair is roughly about 70 micrometres in diameter, this equates to being 30 times the size of the largest fine particle.
Australian Standards and the Clean Shaven Mandate
Australian standards, notably AS/NZS 1715:2009, explicitly underscore the importance of being clean-shaven during fit testing and each time a respirator is worn. This mandate is rooted in the fundamental requirement for a proper seal, a prerequisite for the respiratory protective equipment to fulfill its intended purpose. Compliance with this mandate aligns with the broader goal of ensuring occupational health and safety by minimizing the risk of contaminants infiltrating the mask.
We love the WorkSafe New Zealand’s campaign called “Life Shavers, perfectly fitted masks save lives" to encourage being clean shaven when wearing respiratory protective equipment. Check it out, its a great message.
A Proactive Measure for Workplace Safety
The insistence on being clean-shaven serves as a proactive measure in maintaining workplace health and safety. It acknowledges the dynamic nature of occupational environments and emphasizes the need for constant adherence to fit testing protocols. Whether there is a change in respirator type, facial features, or workplace conditions, the clean-shaven mandate ensures that the respiratory protective equipment remains effective and continues to meet evolving job environment needs.
It is often downplayed how important your respiratory protective equipment really is, they are purely designed to clean the air you breathe and safeguard your lungs for overall health.
Remember, you wouldn’t be required to wear respiratory protective equipment if there wasn’t known airborne contamination within your working environment.
Key Takeaways - Prioritizing Safety through Compliance and PAPRs
In conclusion, the clean-shaven imperative during fit testing and each time a respirator is worn is not merely a grooming guideline; it is a crucial component of ensuring a proper seal. By adhering to Australian standards, workplaces prioritize the safety and well-being of their employees. This compliance with fit testing protocols, including the clean-shaven mandate, serves as a foundational element in fostering a secure and healthier working environment. For those unable to adhere to the clean-shaven requirement, exploring alternative options like PAPRs becomes pivotal in maintaining both safety and individual comfort.
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