Beards and tight fitting masks don’t mix. Any facial hair can create a gap between the mask and the skin, breaking the seal and rendering the protection ineffective. Indeed, anything that interferes with the mask fitting properly is a problem. Occasionally, there may be other reasons why an individual cannot wear a tight fitting mask, such as a skin disease.
Sikhs consider all hair growth to be a gift from God and therefore it cannot be cut, plucked or shaved. The Equality Act imposes a duty to consider the needs of people with different religious beliefs when designing and delivering services. An employment tribunal might find discrimination on grounds of religion where there are viable alternatives to requiring the worker to shave off their facial hair.
Thankfully, alternative respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is available. There are fan powered, battery operated loose fitting hoods, helmets and visors, which blow clean air across the face under positive pressure. Loose-fitting face pieces rely on enough clean air being provided to the wearer to prevent the contaminant leaking in. This type of equipment still needs to be worn closely and you should ensure that the wearer is instructed in its correct use. Loose-fitting devices do not need to be face-fit tested, but they do need to fit observably close to the face.
The compatibility of beards and dust masks is a question we get asked more often than anything else. And putting it bluntly, facial hair and tight fitting respirator masks just don’t mix. The simple fact is that no dust mask can work effectively unless it forms a seal against the skin. Facial hair (beards) can create gaps between the respirator and the skin, thus breaking the seal and leaving you unprotected from hazardous materials and breaking every health and safety law in the book.