Respirator Fit and Function

      Advice and information about personal breathing protection for bearded men. March 12, 2006

I tried spraying NC lacquer in a booth without a mask and didn't like the fumes. I don't want to go to a helmet, but I've got a large head and a full beard and mustache, which are trimmed short. Is there a mask that might seal well enough and be reasonably comfortable? How much leakage would make a mask not worth using? Would I be better off with a mask that leaks a bit or, if it leaks, should I not bother?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor L:
Aclands/Grainger would be a place to start. They often offer a class on the correct way to fit a mask. I think they offer a mask for people with beards.

From contributor C:
With a beard you have two options on head gear - helmet or hood. Either can be supplied air by a SAR setup or a PAPR setup. OSHA is clear on nothing coming between the face and the respirator seal, which includes facial hair. So unless you want to lose the beard, you can't wear an air purifying respirator, whether it's a full mask or half mask. With the various chemicals in coatings, no leakage is acceptable.

From contributor M:
To test fit a mask, you put the mask on your face without the straps on your head - let them dangle. Then you put your hands over the filters, completely, and suck in. If the mask forms suction and stays on your face, then you have a good seal. Otherwise you have leaks - not a good fit.

From contributor R:
Actually, there are two fit tests. One as described above: cover the filters with your hands (being careful to not press the mask against your face too hard and artificially produce a better seal) and suck. The other is to cover the exhaust port and blow. Both tests must be successful to conclude the mask fits and is effective. (Several years in the asbestos removal industry taught me a few things about masks.)

OSHA (and WCB here in Canada) don't allow for any facial hair where a half-mask fits. From a practical rather than bureaucratic perspective, you'd have to calculate the permissible concentrations (assuming there are any), and then what percentage of leakage your mask had, and then... you really don't want to go there.

In answer to your last question, it depends on the toxin. If there is zero tolerance, well, that speaks for itself. If there is some permissible concentration, then I guess yes, some filtering is better than no filtering. But for my money, I'd rather not gamble.

From the original questioner:
Thank you all for your replies. After contributor C's comment, I found listings of those regulations. From an employer/employee, workplace standpoint they make sense. But for a 1-man shop, I'd think that you should be able to test and check before use where you'd not want that responsibility on an employee.

I'll try water based to try avoiding the quantity of solvents and a mask to back up the booth's ability to clear the air. I'll see if I can find a mask that seals well on me.

From contributor R:
I almost hesitate to mention this, lest it be construed as advice, but an old scuba diving trick is to use Vaseline on the mask sealing lip to improve the seal. As you are hopefully not working underwater, you could probably substitute KY jelly - easier cleanup. Depending on the bushiness of your hair, you might need a good sized bead.

From contributor M:
Be careful about spraying without a mask, even waterbased. The dust (overspray that dries) can be unhealthy, too.

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