April 1, 2011
Mr. Randy Southard
7848 Highway 68 North
Stokesdale, NC 27357-9326
Dear Mr. Southard:
Thank you for your letter of December 2, 2009, to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requesting clarification of OSHA's policy on facial hair and respirator use. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any question not delineated in your original correspondence.
The Respiratory Protection standard specifically provides that firefighters entering an immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) atmosphere must wear a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). The section of the respirator standard that applies, 29 CFR 1910.134(g)(1)(i)(A), requires employers to prohibit respirators with tight-fitting facepieces to be worn by employees who have facial hair that comes between the sealing surface of the facepiece and the face. This regulation does not ban facial hair on respirator users, per se. However, when a respirator must be worn to protect employees from airborne contaminants, it has to fit correctly, and this will require the wearer's face to be clean-shaven where the respirator seals against it.
It should be emphasized that all respirators must be properly fitted, regardless of which type is worn or whether the wearer has facial hair. Positive pressure-type respirators can have leakage paths that can cause aspiration of the outside atmosphere. With SCBAs, high leakage will markedly reduce the service life of the air cylinder. In addition, research has demonstrated that even modest facial hair growth can have a significant adverse impact on the protection of a positive-pressure system.
Although the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 excludes State and local government employees, such as local firefighters, from Federal coverage, the State of North Carolina operates an OSHA-approved State plan which extends coverage to these workers. The North Carolina Department of Labor (NC-OSH) adopts and enforces occupational safety and health standards that are, for the most part, identical to Federal standards. North Carolina also provides coverage to volunteer firefighters under certain circumstances. See http://www.nclabor.com/osha/osh.htm. We suggest that you contact NC-OSH directly at the following address if you have additional questions about the respiratory protection requirements for firefighters and the State's coverage of volunteers:
Cherie Berry, Commissioner
North Carolina Department of Labor (NCDOL)
1101 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, North Carolina 27699-1101
Phone: (919) 807-2900
Fax: (919) 807-2855
Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of Health Enforcement at (202) 693-2190.
Thomas Galassi, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs
cc: Congressman Howard Coble, Washington, DC office