When wearing respiratory protective equipment (RPE) at work, being clean shaven is essential to make sure it forms a seal to protect against breathing in harmful materials
Even a small amount of stubble can prevent respiratory protective equipment, or RPE, forming a correct seal. This can mean while a worker is wearing the appropriate RPE, they are still inhaling potentially harmful materials which may cause health issues.
A clean shave goes hand in hand with the correct RPE for the job. Ensuring workers are aware of the need to be clean shaven when wearing RPE is vital.
“When our inspectors are out and about they see a lot of workers with beards while wearing RPE, and these workers usually don’t realise this is putting their health at risk,” says WorkSafe Manager Health, Api Poutasi.
“We want to make sure all workers are looking after their health. Getting cancer or another illness because you prioritised stylish facial hair isn’t a good idea.”
WorkSafe estimates show cancers and respiratory harm account for 31% of work-related health problems in New Zealand.
“Wearing RPE is one step to prevent adding to this statistic, but it needs to go hand-in-hand with having a shave to make sure any RPE which is worn is forming a proper seal,” says Poutasi.
“This serves as a reminder for workers and business of the small things which add up to help keep workers safe. If you wouldn’t go on a construction site without wearing boots, if you wouldn’t drive your car without wearing your seatbelt, you shouldn’t wear RPE without having a shave.”
Poutasi says businesses still need to look at their actions around their workers and ensure appropriate actions are in place.
Reminding workers to shave before they come in to work or allowing them to return home to shave (if applicable) are small steps which can protect their health. Businesses can make workers aware ahead of time that they will need to wear RPE for a specific task to allow them time to shave.
Alternatively if another, clean shaven, worker is available, they can be assigned with the task which requires the use of RPE. The worker with facial hair should be reminded of the risks of wearing RPE which doesn’t form a correct seal.
“As with all risk mitigation and interventions, businesses must consider every situation individually because not every worker or site is the same,” Poutasi points out.
“Not every worker can shave. For some workers facial hair is part of their culture or faith. Businesses need to consider alternative protective measures for those workers – there are ways to prevent dust and materials being inhaled, or maybe those workers need to perform another role on site to avoid that risk.”
You can find further advice for businesses on RPE on WorkSafe’s RPE advice for businesses webpage.