A UK building company has introduced a new safety regulation to ban a serious threat to health and safety: beards.
Mears Group sent out a letter to its staff this week listing which forms of facial hair would henceforth be considered acceptable for work.
“Operatives who work in a potentially dusty environment - all of ours - must come to work clean shaven to be able to wear appropriate dust masks effectively.”
It stated that there would be exceptions for construction workers who grew their beards for medical or religious reasons. However, they will need to provide either a letter from their place of workshop or a valid doctor’s note, as appropriate, in order to keep their facial hair.
Luckily, goatees will be considered “acceptable as long as they don’t hinder the correct fitting of said dust masks.”
“The arrogance of Mears is hair-raising,” said Mark Soave, London’s Regional Official for Unite, a worker’s union. “This is a highly delicate issue, which has huge cultural, religious and personal issues and where sensitivity should be the watchword. Instead members have been handed a decree from on high.
“This is clearly a case of Mears going for the cheapest option and amounts to "penny pinching stupidity". Other forms of masks are available and these should be offered to existing workers.
“Unite will always put the safety of our members first and creating huge resentment and anger among your workforce is never the way forward. Mears needs to withdraw this decree and enter into a proper consultation with Unite and the workforce.”
Despite Unite’s stance on the issue, Mears Group is not incorrect in claiming that beards can be a safety hazard. In fact, according to the Health and Safety Executive’s guidelines on the subject, properly sealing a dust mask onto your face is “impossible” with a beard.
“We are pretty surprised that Unite, who claim to have the safety of workers at heart, have taken this disappointing stance,” said Mark Elkington, Group Health and Safety Director of Mears.
He stressed the company’s “legal responsibility” to ensure that its employees are “properly protected.”
“The simple fact is that no dust mask can work effectively unless it forms a seal against the skin,” he continued. “That is not possible with a beard or even heavy stubble. If the Health and Safety Executive did a spot site visit and found workers wearing dust masks that were not sealed against the face then we would be liable to prosecution.
“The alternative to a dust mask is a full hood over the head, which brings its own risks. For example, many of our operatives do not like wearing a full hood and it can affect hearing and line of sight. It can also be uncomfortable to wear and can raise concerns with our clients who do not like to see workers in such hoods because of how it looks to customers.
“It is vital to note, however, that if a risk assessment shows that the hood is a better option for a job or a worker insisted on having one, then, if assessed to be suitable, we will supply that hood so Unite's reference to cost saving is absolute nonsense.
“If one of our workers suffers respiratory illness as a result of a poor fitting mask then that is our responsibility and we place the safety of our workers at the top of the priority list.
“Finally it is worthy of note that this affects a very small percentage of our workers who would be in that environment.