When I first became interested in welding, I quickly wanted to get as involved as I could. However, it soon became apparent that welding is not just a profession, but a way of life, requiring you to change yourself to fit the job. As somebody who frequently has a beard, I started wondering whether I’d be allowed into the profession because of my facial hair.
So, can welders have beards? Certified welders cannot have lengthy beards. This is because beards usually prevent respiratory protection from working effectively. It does depend on the respirator you use and how long your beard is, but it’s important to note that having a beard while being a welder is often an unsafe thing.
In this article, I’ll be looking closely at why it’s not smart to be a welder with a beard. On top of this, I’ll also be looking at the nuances behind this answer, and the potential situations where having a beard as a welder is possible. Let’s first go a little deeper on why you really shouldn’t have a beard as a welder.
Why Can’t Welders Generally Have Beards?
Before we really dive in, I want to say that the only arbiter of whether beards are safe for welding is the American Welding Society (AWS). Welding safety is often a personal matter, making it necessary for you to consult a qualified individual at the AWS (besides a medical professional) before welding.
When welding, you often expose yourself to various contaminants that can cause harmful conditions later. For example, emphysema, lung cancer, and even manganism are all common conditions for welders to have, frequently becoming problems for many people who enter the welding profession.
Because it can be so common to get these conditions when working on the job, it’s essential that you do all that you can to make sure that you’re safe. With a bushy or lengthy beard, it often makes proper respiratory protection difficult to work as intended because your respirator doesn’t always cling to your face as it should.
When welding with excessive facial hair, you are risking the seal that the respirator has on your face. Eventually, this can cause your lungs to be more contaminated than they would be otherwise, exposing you to diseases and conditions that usually wouldn’t take place until much later in life for others. When you weld without a beard, you risk affecting your lungs in unprecedented ways.
This is the reason welders generally can’t have beards. It might be technically possible with the right setup, but the risk is often too high for many to even consider it. It is a personal decision but must be approached with proper consultation, facts, and reason.
Are There Any Beards That Work with Welding?
To put it simply, there might be beards that work with welding. If you have a long beard, it’s definitely not smart to keep it as a welder. This is because the hazard created by exposing your beard to flames is high and unsafe.
Even then, there’s no way that a respirator can fit around your face securely, exposing you to various toxins and air that will damage your respiratory system.
If you’re someone who wants to rock a beard while welding, I recommend you keep it neat and short. The hair itself shouldn’t be too thick or grow too far out from your face, as the goal is to have enough of your face available to secure a mask to it properly.
Some general respiratory units will seal regardless, but many workplaces will still not allow you to work with any facial hair.
If you want to make sure that your facial hair is up to code with government welding regulations, you’ll have to go to an AWS-certified training facility. At these locations, you can get a professional opinion on the length of your beard and whether or not it fits.
Because the safety risk of welding without proper protection is often so high, I recommend that you err on the side of caution and don’t weld with a beard. This is an important step, as self-assessing your beard’s viability can put you at serious risk.
Which Types of Respirators Are Available?
Two main types of respirators are used in welding:
1. Negative Pressure Respirator (N95)
A negative pressure respirator is a common type of respirator that works around an entire seal being applied to your face. If you’re somebody who wants the best protection from contaminants and polluted air, this is the safest option to use.
Negative Pressure Respirators are also the norm for welding, with the market standard being focused on the safest option.
Negative Pressure Respirators get their name from the air pressure created by the facepiece. This is because the air pressure is often harmful when compared to the air pressure outside of the respirator itself, allowing users to continue inhaling without exposing themselves to any polluted air and potentially dangerous chemicals.
2. Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPRs)
A powered air-purifying respirator is typically an option for those who aren’t able to fit into a Negative Pressure Respirator. However, they may also be employed in situations where N95 respirators are not available.
PAPRs also require those who wear them to be medically certified to ensure that they are being applied correctly.
PAPRs typically work by using a blower to filter contaminants out of the air, then put the clean air into a mask. It’s vital to differentiate PAPRs between Positive Pressure Respirators (a less common type of respirator) due to the former not creating positive air pressure.
It’s also important to familiarize yourself with the various regulations and health information surrounding PAPRs to be sure that it is a good fit for you. An excellent example of this can be found on the Minnesota Department of Health’s website.
Another thing to remember is that PAPRs are often expensive when compared to N95s, making the investment also a significant financial one. This is a less life-threatening reason many welders don’t have beards, but it is still a common one.
Are There Any Respirators That Do Work with Beards?
Out of the different respirators available on the market, PAPRs are most likely to work with beards. Certain types of N95s can get a complete seal with minimal facial hair, but this is much less common than PAPRs geared specifically towards those who can’t properly use N95s.
If you want to be sure that the PAPR you’re looking into will work with facial hair, you need to get clearance and a recommendation from the American Welding Society.
The reality is, you can probably find a way to fit either one of these on your face with a beard. But you shouldn’t, as there’s just too much risk involved.
Will I Be Able To Weld With A Beard At My Workplace?
Whether you’ll be able to weld with a beard at your workplace depends on the specific work you’re at. Even though some setups allow welders to have facial hair, it’s still common for workplaces to not allow beards simply as a precaution.
This only adds another layer to the difficulty of welding with a beard, as you not only have to find only a proper respirator that will allow you to do so, but also a workplace in which it’s possible.
Workplaces have rules against facial hair because they want to abide as close to regulations as they can. Because there is always room for uncertainty with someone welding with a beard, many workplaces prefer to play it safe.
Can’t I Just Weld Without A Respirator?
Yes – you can weld without a respirator – but you’ll need to do that at your own risk. With the chemicals produced during welding, it’s smart to protect yourself however you can and wear a respirator (as well as all other recommended safety equipment).
That being said, you can probably get away without wearing one if you wanted to. But I look at it like riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Sure, you might not crash and smash your head, and you may never get pulled over, but what happens if you do? Why take that chance?
Wearing a respirator is a smart safety move and we absolutely don’t advocate for welding without one. And to make them work properly, you need the respirator to conform to your face properly – meaning you probably can’t look like Grizzly Adams when you’re welding.
Can I wear a welding helmet bib? You can wear a welding helmet bib when welding, but it does not fully protect against inhalation risks. All the welding helmet bib will do is cover your beard and prevent it from catching on fire. It still may not solve the issue of exposure to chemicals if the respirator doesn’t tightly fit.
What is the acceptable facial hair for fit testing? NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) put together a helpful visual guide that will aid you in determining if your facial hair is acceptable or not. Basically, any beard that significantly hangs off your face is unacceptable. You can check out the full visual here.