In Search of a Performing Seal: Rethinking the Design of Tight-Fitting Respiratory Protective Equipment Facepieces for Users With Facial Hair

Background: Air-purifying, tight-fitting facepieces are examples of respiratory protective equipment and are worn to protect workers from potentially harmful particulate and vapors. Research shows that the presence of facial hair on users' face significantly reduces the efficacy of these devices. This article sets out to establish if an acceptable seal could be achieved between facial hair and the facepiece. The team also created and investigated a low-cost “pressure testing” method for assessing the efficacy of a seal to be used during the early design process for a facepiece designed to overcome the facial hair issue
Methods: Nine new designs for face mask seals were prototyped as flat samples. A researcher developed a test rig, and a test protocol was used to evaluate the efficacy of the new seal designs against facial hair. Six of the seal designs were also tested using a version of the conventional fit test. The results were compared with those of the researcher-developed test to look for a correlation between the two test methods.
Results: None of the seals performed any better against facial hair than a typical, commercially available facepiece. The pressure testing method devised by the researchers performed well but was not as robust as the fit factor testing.
Conclusion: The results show that sealing against facial hair is extremely problematic unless an excessive force is applied to the facepiece's seal area pushing it against the face. The means of pressure testing devised by the researchers could be seen as a low-cost technique to be used at the early stages of a the design process, before fit testing is viable.

Source:  Meadwell, J., Paxman-Clarke, L., Terris, D. et Ford, P. (2019). Safety and Health at Work.

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