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Thread: Facial Hair and OSHA

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    Default Facial Hair and OSHA

    After a recent call, one of the chiefs was talking about the recent OSHA visit to the factory he works in. They were there to do fit testing for industrial breathing apparatus. He couldn't believe it when three guys in a row were passed with a full beard. Not trimmed or anything. One even said that he would go home on lunch, shave, and be back. The OSHA rep told him to try as he was and passed him.

    There are a couple chiefs from other departments that work at the same place. We have been having discussions internally about how to handle mutual aid when those coming have facial hair and are going inside as they are signed off by their chief. For us it is easy, it says right in the owners manual of our SCBA that no facial hair may touch the seal anywhere.

    What makes this interesting is that the factory and neighboring departments are in NY and we are in PA. When we call them, they are technically under our workmen's comp insurance. But they have been told, by OSHA reps, that they are ok with whatever facial hair they want as long as they pass fit test. We were told, absolutely not by a different person from OSHA.

    I'm not even so sure I have a question, just more of a statement of frustration that the OSHA people can't be consistent on their own rules.

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    The honest question....for/to OSHA....is why is facial hair not allowed?

    If you have a good seal, what is the issue? Does being clean shaven for the annual test and passing outweigh the 5 o'clock shadow the other 364 days of the year? Does passing the annual test with 1/2" of well maintained beard make it ok to have 1" unkept a month later?


    My gut says.....clean shaven to wear a mask. Just because they passed at that time doesn't mean the beard/stubble will remain that way all year.
    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

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    HuntPA: At the recent Western Pennsylvania Instructors Conference (Nov. 2012) a question and answer session was held with the State Fire Commissioner. His statement to instructors, "If you allow any student under your tutelage to don a mask where facial hair is beneath the seal area of that mask, and then permit said student to enter an IDLH atmosphere, You will be terminated as an instructor. The instructions for every SCBA that I am familiar with states in the user instructions the wearer must be clean shaven. I perform "Quantitative" (leakage based) testing on our interior firefighters. The test equipment used for this program will absolutely fail a person with a couple of days fo growth. Most are able to pass the static tests, but quickly fail the side to side and face down portions of the test series. One of the arguments is that since the mask is positive pressure, the contaminants can't enter the mask. This is simply not true, since the migration of molicules depends upon partial pressures of that contamination molicule. Thus if the mask content (example) of CO is zero, the carbon monoxide around the wearer will try to migrate from the area of concentration into the mask where there is zero CO. It simply does not recognize the flow of Nitrogen, Oxygen, Carbon Dioxide and Water Vapor as having anything to do with its attempts to get into the mask. I suspect that your local plant is using an outside contractor that has not been properly schooled in understanding how the universal gas laws work.

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    I used to work part time for an industrial safety and health company that did a ton of work in the oil refineries/petrochemical industry in and around Philly and South Jersey. One of our jobs was to do fit testing of Union contractors (steamfitters, pipefitters, boilermakers, etc.) working the various shut-downs and turnarounds in the refineries. Our SOP for doing fit testing was cast in solid rock: THOU SHALT NOT FIT TEST ANYONE WITH ANY VISIBLE FACIAL HAIR." And we were constantly warned by our bosses that mantra was NOT NEGOTIABLE.

    One third shift about oh-dark hundred I was sitting in the trailer when this big burly Chewbacca-looking steamfitter came in saying his PSM card was no good because he hadnt had a recent fit-test and they told him to come see me. I said "gee I'd like to help you but I cant if you have that facial hair" which looked to be about as old as I was at the time. His face got redder than the hard hat he was wearing and bluntly told me using some colorful words that "he'd had the beard since I was in diapers and that he never failed a fit test ever and that if I didnt give him a fit test he's go file a grievance with the union."

    My first reply was that it was our company policy not to fit test anyone with facial hair, as per 27CFR1910.134...(IIRC) as well as the breathing apparatus Mfr's user instructions. He replied basically the same as what I posted above. I could see it was going nowhere, so my second reply was "well I tell you what if I had the grievance forms here I would give you one to fill out to save you the walk back to the shop steward's trailer."

    Apparently that didnt go over too well, but in the end 27CFR1910.134 has more pull than all the shop stewards and union bosses will ever have because Chewbacca came in 2 nights later with a face as clean as the prom queens thighs.
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    Im with Bones, the issue is repeatability. It's easy to keep clean shaven constant. I doubt the firefighter with a beard will be able to keep it in the same condition it was in on test day. So for everyone's benefit its much better to have it clean shaven. That can be kept relatively constant.

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    Anyone know what happened in DC regarding the "religious exception"? IIRC some Muslim firefighters were allowed to keep their beards and still be fully operational? Maybe they were reassigned and lost SCBA certs?

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    Quote Originally Posted by RFDACM02 View Post
    Anyone know what happened in DC regarding the "religious exception"? IIRC some Muslim firefighters were allowed to keep their beards and still be fully operational? Maybe they were reassigned and lost SCBA certs?
    I'm a Muslim and I'm wondering what will happen with this. I'm thinking I could just keep a five-clock shadow which will be a good compromise
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    When NFPA 1500, OSHA, and SCBA manufaturer's specifically state no facial hair that may touch the seal, how can a waiver be made? Does the reason for the rule suddenly disappear because a person worships in a specific way? Although, that would open up the ability to recruit the local Amish.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wolfn View Post
    I'm a Muslim and I'm wondering what will happen with this. I'm thinking I could just keep a five-clock shadow which will be a good compromise
    Forgive my ignorance, but could you explain more about the beard in Islam? Is it just having one, or is their an importance in not cutting it. I'm just kind of curious, especially since you brought up the 5 o'clock shadow as a compromise.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nameless View Post
    Forgive my ignorance, but could you explain more about the beard in Islam? Is it just having one, or is their an importance in not cutting it. I'm just kind of curious, especially since you brought up the 5 o'clock shadow as a compromise.

    Well, it's Sunnah (basically Islamic extra credit) to grow a fist-long beard. The reason being is that the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) grew his beard like that to differentiate from the non-Muslims at the time.

    Obviously I can't fit a fist-long beard into a firefighting mask so I'm thinking a five oclock shadow would be a nice compromise because I'm 99% sure that won't cause a safety problem and I will still technically have a beard.
    Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wolfn View Post
    I'm 99% sure that won't cause a safety problem
    No offense, but if it were not a safety problem, then why is it specifically prohibited in the code of federal regulations, all SCBA manufacturers and the vast majority of fire departments in the United States, who maintain written respiratory policies (as required by most states) ?????
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    Quote Originally Posted by FWDbuff View Post
    No offense, but if it were not a safety problem, then why is it specifically prohibited in the code of federal regulations, all SCBA manufacturers and the vast majority of fire departments in the United States, who maintain written respiratory policies (as required by most states) ?????
    Lawyers.
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    Quote Originally Posted by RFDACM02 View Post
    Anyone know what happened in DC regarding the "religious exception"? IIRC some Muslim firefighters were allowed to keep their beards and still be fully operational? Maybe they were reassigned and lost SCBA certs?
    They're still riding fire trucks.
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    the DC guys sued and won.... they set the legal precedent for allowing beards for religious reasons.

    I passed the fit test with more than 5 o'clock shadow. I happened to jog the 2 miles to the firehouse, and was told by the tester that I couldn't take the test because I wasn't clean shaved. I told him if I can't get a good seal, I will go home and come back another day, no more argument. he let me take the test, and I passed with flying colors.

    As a side note, I get a better seal with 1 o'clock shadow than I do clean shaven. clean shaven the sweat pools in the chin rest of the mast, causing discomfort; with a little growth, it wasn't as bad... at least not for me.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HeavyRescueTech View Post
    the DC guys sued and won.... they set the legal precedent for allowing beards for religious reasons.
    You might do a little more research into the case law on that one. The FF's didn't necessarily "win", what was determined was that DC is under a different set of rules.

    The ruling has little-to-no impact outside of Washington, DC.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HeavyRescueTech View Post
    I passed the fit test with more than 5 o'clock shadow. I happened to jog the 2 miles to the firehouse, and was told by the tester that I couldn't take the test because I wasn't clean shaved. I told him if I can't get a good seal, I will go home and come back another day, no more argument. he let me take the test, and I passed with flying colors.
    According to the OSHA regulations (and as FWD stated above), your test is not valid and the person administering the test should be fired.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HuntPA View Post
    According to the OSHA regulations (and as FWD stated above), your test is not valid and the person administering the test should be fired.
    actually, your right. not that i want the person to lose their job or anything, but according to the rules, you are right. But bones said it best, and I happen to agree:
    f you have a good seal, what is the issue? Does being clean shaven for the annual test and passing outweigh the 5 o'clock shadow the other 364 days of the year?
    If you get a seal, isn't that the important part? I might have shaved 10 minutes before my annual test, I can assure you that I don't shave 10 minutes before I put on a mask.

    some rules were created simply because lawyers said common sense cannot be applied here, and because testing management didn't want to let administrators use their judgement in what can and could not be permitted. the important thing is that a good seal is created.
    If my basic HazMat training has taught me nothing else, it's that if you see a glowing green monkey running away from something, follow that monkey!

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    Quote Originally Posted by HeavyRescueTech View Post
    If you get a seal, isn't that the important part? I might have shaved 10 minutes before my annual test, I can assure you that I don't shave 10 minutes before I put on a mask.

    some rules were created simply because lawyers said common sense cannot be applied here, and because testing management didn't want to let administrators use their judgement in what can and could not be permitted. the important thing is that a good seal is created.
    I thought the important thing was creating a safe work environment that enables each person to go home to their family safe-and-sound.

    Typically OSH regulations and standards come about because an employer refused to provide a safe work environment. That's part of what the original unions fought for and is part of the history of the formation of OSHA. The IAFF fights for these kinds of things all the time.

    It astonishes me that there are those that want to fight the very rules made to make sure they get home alive and safe after their shift.

    Just hypothetical here: if someone was denied PSOB benefits because it was found they had facial hair in violation of OSHA 1910.134, do you suppose that person's family or union would sue the hell out of the employer for not enforcing that regulation?

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