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• Standard Number: 1910.134

October 3, 1996

(Name Withheld)

Dear (Name Withheld):

This letter is in response to your inquiry on beards, respirator use, and fit testing of respirators. As background information it may be helpful to state, in general terms, OSHA's requirements about the respirator face seal and beards. As you are aware, [29 CFR 1910.134(g)(1)(i)] states the following:

Respirators shall not be worn when conditions prevent a good face seal. Such conditions may be a growth of beard, sideburns, a skull cap that projects under the facepiece, or temple pieces on glasses.

(Correction 03/29/99)

[(1) Facepiece seal protection.

(i) The employer shall not permit respirators with tight-fitting facepieces to be worn by employees who have:
(A) Facial hair that comes between the sealing surface of the facepiece and the face or that interferes with valve function; or
(B) Any condition that interferes with the face-to-facepiece seal or valve function.]

This requirement applies to both negative or positive pressure respiratory protective devices that rely on the principle of forming a face to facepiece seal.

Beard growth at points where the seal with the face and respirator occurs is a condition that has been shown by numerous studies to prevent a good face seal. Copies of relevant articles documenting this have been enclosed. Thus an employer using a respirator to protect an employee with a growth of beard where the seal is compromised by the beard growth is violating [29 CFR 1910.134(g)(1)(i)(A)]. The OSHA standard does allow beards with the use of respirators that do not rely on a tight facepiece seal between the respirator inlet covering and the underlying skin (i.e., both loose fitting helmets and hoods are acceptable in this regard).

In response to your list of questions, the following is provided:

1. If a hospital had a policy that any employee that has a beard and can achieve a good face seal may enter an "AFB" isolation room if he has documented proof of a consistent good face seal by quantitative fit testing, would OSHA fine or cite that hospital? Would that hospital be in violation of any OSHA regulation because of such a policy?

As has already been stated, it is OSHA's policy to enforce [29 CFR 1910.134(g)(1)(i)(A)]. Also, as already stated, it has been shown that beard growth prevents a good face seal. The regulatory language in the paragraph does not make any exceptions when fit testing shows that a good fit has been achieved for persons with beards. Also, seeing that facial-hair growth occurs daily and, thus, fit testing performed on a previous day may not be valid for the day the respirator is worn, OSHA cannot concur with your hospital policy as an allowable exception to the requirement in [1910.134(g)(1)(i)(A)].

2. Is there any OSHA standard that states that a person with a beard cannot be quantitatively fit tested?

No: our respiratory protection standard only requires that the user of a respirator be fit tested. The fit-test method accepted can be either quantitative or qualitative. As previously mentioned, there have been numerous studies conducted that have shown that individuals with a beard or beard growth cannot consistently achieve an adequate face to respirator seal.

[This document was edited on 03/29/99 to strike information that no longer reflects current OSHA policy.]

3. Is there any regulation stating that a beard that does not touch the area of the seal (and the area of the seal is clean shaven) is not permitted when entering a "TB" isolation room?

No: if employees can trim their beards so that the beards do not come between their face to respirator seals or interfere with respirator-valve function, then their use of the respirators would be acceptable provided they passed a proper fit test.

4. If OSHA is requiring an employer to abuse an employee's civil rights by forcing an employee to shave his beard or be fired - shouldn't OSHA require the employer to provide a positive pressure hood system instead?

The current 29 CFR 1910.134 respiratory protection standard requires that the respirator be certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), be appropriate for the intended use, and provide adequate protection against the hazardous exposure. The standard does not require the employer to provide a more protective respirator if its use is not warranted by the hazardous exposure.

For your information, OSHA is completing revisions to the final respiratory protection standard that will replace the current 29 CFR 1910.134 standard. The new respirator standard is tentatively scheduled for release this fall. We hope these answers satisfactorily address your questions. If you have any other comments or concerns, please contact the Office of Health Compliance Assistance at [(202) 693-2190].

[This document was edited on 03/29/99 to strike information that no longer reflects current OSHA policy.]

Sincerely,

John B. Miles, Jr., Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs

Enclosure



May 16, 1996

Mr. Richard Fairfax
Department of Health Compliance Assistance
National Office of O.SH.A.
200 Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20210

Dear Mr. Richard Fairfax:

I am a respiratory therapist in a New Jersey hospital which is currently debating a hospital policy on forcing employees to shave their beards due to O.SH.A. regulations on "TB" (AFB) isolation. In an attempt to find out the current regulations on "TB" isolation, beards, positive and negative masks and hoods, and face mask seals, I contacted Charles Jenkins and Jim Clancy of the Marlton NJ Office of O.SH.A. Jim Clancy suggested that I contact the National Office of O.SH.A. in order to acquire an up to date interpretation since the most current interpretation we could find was from 1983. Upon reaching the National Office I spoke with Ira Wainless from Technical Support and John Steelneck from Health Standards.

The conclusion of my decisions to date is that it is the interference with the face mask seal that O.SH.A. prohibits, not the presence of facial hair. Obviously then, O.SH.A.'s position is that any beard style is fine when not in a "TB" isolation room, and a beard need only be shaved in the area of the face mask seal if it interferes with the seal, and then only prior to entering the "TB isolation room.

O.SH.A. regulations state that items that MAY interfere with a face mask seal include - facial hair - dentures - glasses - etc., and thus this regulation states that facial hair MAY NOT interfere with a face mask seal. Therefore, an individual with a well trimmed beard that is able to consistently pass a quantitative fit test need not shave in the area of the face mask seal at all.

Please respond to the following questions:

If a hospital had a policy that any employee that has a beard and can achieve a good face seal may enter an "AFB" isolation room if he has documented proof of a consistent good face seal by quantitative fit testing, would O.SH.A. fine or cite that hospital? Would that hospital be in violation of any O.SH.A. regulation because of such a policy?

Is there any O.SH.A. standard that states that a person with a beard cannot be quantitatively fit tested?

Is there any regulation stating that a beard that does not touch the area of the seal (and the area of the seal is clean shaven) is not permitted when entering a "TB" isolation room?

If O.SH.A. is requiring an employer to abuse an employee's civil rights by forcing an employee to shave his beard or be fired - shouldn't O.SH.A. require the employer to provide a positive pressure hood system instead?

Thank you for your time and effort. I look forward to your official written interpretation of the current O.SH.A. regulations on this matter, especially those concerning the above questions.

Sincerely,

(Name Withheld)


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