Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is a type of personal protective equipment issued to protect the wearer from air-based hazards. In order for tight-fitting RPE to work sufficiently, the wearer must be clean shaven.

The S-3V Alpha S, FFP3 valved mask by Alpha Solway

There are numerous pieces of legislation governing the use of respiratory protective equipment in the workplace, including COSHH Regulations, 2002 and Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012. These regulations are supported by Approved Codes of Practice. ACoPs give practical guidance on compliance.

When selecting adequate and suitable RPE there are a number of factors which must be considered:

  • Equipment must be fit for its purpose – it needs to reduce exposure of the hazard to the level required to protect the wearer’s health. It must provide the correct type of protection against the hazard – i.e. particulate filter respirators will not provide sufficient protection against vapours.
  • Equipment must be suitable for the environment it is being used in
  • Equipment must be suitable for the wearer – RPE must fit the wearer correctly (this includes being compatible with any other equipment they may be wearing). One of the key factors in determining suitability for the wearer is fit testing which includes the consideration of facial hair presence.

Fit testing & facial hair

A fit-test should form part of the selection process when considering RPE with a tight-fitting facepiece and it should also be repeated when equipment is regularly used to ensure fit is still suitable. Fit testing will help ensure that the RPE fits the wearer correctly; ill-fitting equipment will not provide adequate protection. Moreover, the COSHH regulations, 2002 and the ACoPs now require that fit testing of tight-fitting RPE to be carried out.

Any test must be performed when the wearer is clean-shaven (less than 8 hours of growth) and for the RPE to continue to provide adequate levels of protection, the wearer must remain clean shaven in the region of the face-seal whenever they are using the equipment. Stubble can cause gaps in the seal of masks against the face and allow hazardous particles to enter the breathing area.

Fit-testing must be performed when the wearer is clean shaven.

The HSE conducted a study into the effects of stubble entitled “The effect of wearer stubble on the protection given by Filtering Facepieces Class 3 (FFP3) and Half Masks”. Findings from the study showed protection to the wearer is significantly reduced when stubble is present within 24 hours of shaving and worsening with growth. Analysis revealed that this could reach an unacceptable level for all masks tested, (Source: RR1052, Health and Safety Executive, 2015) clearly demonstrating the importance of remaining clean shaven.

If becoming clean shaven is not an option for the wearer, the only type of RPE that would be suitable would be powered or supplied air with a hood-type head fitting.

Further Reading:

Industrial and Scientific Supplies (part of the Camlab Group) are a registered safety supplier, and accredited by BSIF. You can be confident that you will only be supplied with genuine, appropriately approved products and you will receive sound advice without any attempt to mislead you. Our PPE range complies with regulation and carries CE-marking.

Contact us:

Our range of RPE can be found here. If you would like more information about selecting the correct RPE and fit testing you can contact us at, or on 01954 233 120. Alternatively, fill in the contact form below and a member of our technical support team will get back to you.

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