Beard wrapping can improve safety for health staff unable to shave

16 June 2022

The Clinical Excellence Commission's (CEC) Infection Prevention and Control team played a key role in research and guidance development to improve the safe use of P2/N95 respirators among health workers in the Sikh community.

Published in this month's Journal of Hospital Infection Efficacy of under-mask beard covers saw the CEC staff work with doctors from the Sikh community to assess the efficacy of under-mask beard covers to achieve an adequate seal with tight-fitting P2/N95 respirators and fit testing.

Following the research the team concluded an under-mask beard cover technique – or beard wrapping – may help achieve a satisfactory seal when working with P2/N95 respirators. The research is of value for health workers with facial hair which cannot be shaved due to cultural, religious or medical reasons.

CEC Principal Advisor Dr Susan Jain said the pandemic had heightened the entire health system's awareness of infection prevention and control procedures while also being mindful of cultural diversities.

"At all times we want staff to stop the spread of airborne disease and for staff to be using personal protective equipment which is safe and effective," Dr Jain said.

"Developing and assessing the effectiveness of procedures like the beard wrapping in this research means a broader cohort of health workers can safely care for patients in challenging circumstances like a pandemic.

"Typically, beards are not allowed for health workers using a respirator because without a 'seal' between the skin and respirator there can be a risk of exposure for the workers.

"The research shows beard wrapping may be another effective option for some of these health workers and this has excellent benefits not just for the individual health workers but for the entire system because we have found another way to keep valuable staff working safely in the system."

Dr Jain said the beard wrapping was not universally effective and it was important for all health workers with cultural or religious beards to undertake quantitative fit testing to ensure the safety of themselves and patients in higher risk settings where use of a tight-fitting respirator is required.

The Clinical Excellence Commission has a range of resources to help health workers achieve appropriate use of PPE during the pandemic including the Respiratory Protection Program manual and videos demonstrating the correct beard wrapping procedure.