75 jaar Imbema

Respiratory protection and a beard

Using a half or full-face mask whilst unshaven has a dramatic effect on your protection, but do users of respiratory protection really have to shave every day?

Employers do a lot to provide their staff with the best personal protective equipment available, such as respiratory protection, but if the user of a mask decides not to shave one day, you have a major problem. A situation which, unfortunately, I still come across far too frequently. I will explain why these masks are no longer safe having a beard, and what solutions there are for those who still really want to have a beard.

Seal between mask and face

Disposable masks, half-face masks and full-face masks are respiratory protection based on a partial vacuum. For these types of masks, inhalation creates a partial vacuum that allows air to flow into the mask through the filter. The seal between mask and face must be perfect, otherwise contaminated air will still be inhaled. If the seal is perfect, you can count on the nominal protection factors described in the standard, for example:

Type of mask:  Filter type: Protection factor:
Disposable mask FFP2 12 x
Half-face mask P3 50 x
Full-face mask P3 1000 x

Failure to shave is dramatically bad for the protection factor

These values have been determined in laboratories with a mask on a smooth face, but now the user is deciding not to shave. The consequences for the protection factor are dramatically bad, as revealed by a study conducted by Sundström Safety AB, manufacturer of respiratory protective equipment. They took an SR 100 silicone half-face mask and tested it on a number of test subjects. The protection factor, the level of protection, decreased quickly when the face wasn’t shaven.

Clean shaven                  100%

After 24-48 hours of not shaving   < 50% Full beard                        < 1% With other brands, the protection factor even dropped to less than 10% after 24-48 hours of not shaving!

Health at risk

The health of employees with a beard or stubble is at risk. The effectiveness of respiratory protection drops significantly when the person doesn’t shave. Even so far that a dangerous concentration of contaminated air is simply inhaled. The conclusion is simple: the face must be smooth so the beard has to go…. But that doesn’t come naturally to everyone. After all, a beard is very popular! A beard may also be grown for cultural or religious reasons. In those situations, an overpressure system is definitely the solution.

Solution for beard wearers

In the case of respiratory protection involving overpressure, a separate device is used to filter contaminated air into clean respiratory air. This device could be an external compressed air compressor with a separate filter unit, but could also be a motor unit which is worn on the back. The clean air is supplied via a hose to a hood worn on the head. This hood then protects the face. Clean air is then blown through the hood back outside again. Thanks to the overpressure in the hood, contaminated air cannot be drawn from the outside inside.

Beards no longer a critical factor

The benefit of this system is that a beard is no longer a critical factor. The protection factor is still guaranteed, so is ideal for beard wearers. All hoods that fulfil protection factor TH3 offer a nominal protection factor of 500x. Moreover, these hoods offer much better protection than an ordinary half-face mask (50x).

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