Building firm, Mears Group, has banned beards on its UK construction sites, as it “prevents workers wearing dust masks”. The new health and safety regulations were sent to staff members, outlining which forms of facial hair are considered acceptable. The letter, which was given this week, says: “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.”
Workers who have beards for medical or religious reasons are exempt from the rules.
Employers in the UK have a legal responsibility to protect workers from any environments that are hazardous, with employers prosecuted for failing to meet the correct standards of health and safety.
The decision was highly criticised by workers union, Unite. The union’s regional official for London, Mark Soave, said Mears were going for the “cheapest option” and that there were other forms of masks available. He said: “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.”
Mark Elkington, Group Health and Safety Director of Mears said: “The simple fact is that no dust mask can work effectively unless it forms a seal against the skin. 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.”
Source – UK Construction Online