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28th June 2017

Beards and facial hair is a hot topic in the construction industry at the moment…

Construction contractor Mears caused quite a stir in the national press recently when they asked all staff to report to work clean shaven.

So why have they taken this stance and should all contractors consider following suit?

Mears’ new ruling details that all staff working in potentially dusty environments be clean shaven when undertaking their duties to ensure that dust and respiratory equipment can be worn effectively.

This is due to reports confirming that beards and facial hair can prevent masks and respiratory equipment from fitting the user’s face properly, leaving them exposed to potentially hazardous dust as they conduct their day to day work.

Mears stated in their ruling that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) take a strong stance on this issue and that they were simply complying with their legal obligations.

This has led to criticism, not least from the Unite union, who accuse Mears of penny-pinching, suggesting that many other forms of respiratory equipment and masks are available that are perfectively effective if a user has a beard or facial hair.

So which side of the argument is correct?

Mears are right to point out that the HSE are taking enforcement actions against businesses who fail to manage the risks of dust exposure to their employees. They’re also correct to highlight that many standard masks do not offer sufficient protection if the user has a beard or facial hair.

The union also raises a valid point that other equipment is available. However, what hasn’t been publicised is the additional cost of this equipment and its effectiveness when used in conjunction with other items of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as hard hats and eye protection.

Mears has taken a blunt approach to the problem posed and placed safety above fashion statements. They have made exceptions for employees wearing facial hair for religious reasons. However, the overall ruling looks set to stay in force.

If workers are exposed to dust and are asked to wear a face mask, they should all have an individual ‘face-fit’ test to ensure the mask or respiratory equipment being used offer suitable protection.

If people refuse to report for work clean shaven, then businesses have the option to take a stance similar to that adopted by Mears, or to provide alternative equipment.

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