Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) and the rise of the beard…

work safe with PPE infographic
Work Safe with PPE (Infographic)
May 31, 2018

With the Health and Safety Executive estimating that 12,000 people die each year from occupational respiratory illnesses, it is vital your staff have the correct Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE).

Why is Respiratory Protective Equipment so important?

As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to control substances hazardous to health in your workplace, and prevent and adequately control your workers exposure to those substances.

RPE is issued as a means of control to prevent the inhalation of hazardous substances at work. When worn and used correctly, RPE can help to prevent serious lung conditions caused by inhaling dust and other contaminants.

RPE is divided into two main types:

Respirator (filtering device) Breathing apparatus (BA)
Uses filters to remove contaminants in the workplace air , there are two main types:

  • Non-powered respirators – rely on the wearer’s breathing to draw air through the filter
  • Powered respirators – use a motor to pass air through the filter to give a supply of clean air to the wearer


Needs a supply of breathing-quality air from an independent source (e.g. air cylinder or air compressor)

Both respirators and BA are available in a range of different styles, which can be put into two main groups:

  • Tight-fitting face-pieces (often referred to as masks) – rely on having a good seal with the wearer’s face. These are available as both non-powered and powered respirators and BA. Examples are filtering facepieces, half and full-face masks.
  • Loose-fitting face-pieces – rely on enough clean air being provided to the wearer to prevent contaminant leaking in (only available as powered respirators or BA). Examples are hoods helmets, visors, blouses and suits

What are the common problems associated with RPE compliance within the workplace?

  1. Tightfitting RPE and the rise of the beard

One of the most contentious issues recently with getting employees to wear tightfitting RPE, is the rise of the beard. Beards continue to be increasingly popular, both due to recent fashionable trends and religious factors. However, beards and RPE do not mix. Any facial hair whether it is a beard, stubble, moustache or sideburns can prevent tightfitting masks from forming a good seal and create gaps around the edges of the mask. Breaking the seal and making the protection ineffective by allowing contaminants in the mask.

Therefore, how do you deal with the beard versus tightfitting RPE conundrum?

  • Introduce a ‘no beard rule’. This has become common practice in the construction industry, however, it doesn’t create a solution for those who have a beard for religious reasons and doesn’t comply with the Equality Act which imposes businesses with a responsibility to consider the needs of people with different religious beliefs when designing and delivering services.
  • Offer alternative RPE that doesn’t rely on a tight seal to provide protection. Battery powered or compressed air supplied RPE with loose fitting masks could be suitable alternatives. This includes loose-fitting masks such as hoods, helmets and visors.
  1. Face-fit testing

Although the requirement for workers to wear RPE is well understood, face fit testing and the maintenance associated with it can still be an area that businesses overlook. Completing face fit testing with your workers is essential for anyone whose job requires the use of a tight fitting respirator, unless they are used for comfort only when the level of exposure is below the Workplace Exposure Limit.

In addition to the above, a common oversight is that many businesses only complete face fitting testing at the start of a workers employment. This is not enough. It is essential face fit testing takes place regularly to assess any change in equipment or the facial characteristics of the wearer that could affect the fit. Common changes include if the shape of the face has changed significantly, maybe through weight loss/ gain or dental work or an accident.

If the seal between the respirator and the wearers face is not sufficient, contaminated air will pass through any gaps in the seal. A poor fitting respirator will reduce the level of protection it offers. Fit testing is a way to check that a respirator face-mask matches a person’s facial features and seals sufficiently to their face.


FacilitiesSuppliesTeam are specialists in PPE and are trained to offer face fit testing. We have a wide range of reusable and disposable respirators and also powered air equipment for every requirement. This is supported by a catalogue of over 6,000 PPE and Workwear products for you and your teams to choose from.

If you would like to find out more contact our FacilitiesSupplies Team, or click here to view our full range of professional PPE products.