Outsourced housing maintenance company Mears has banned workers from having beards, in a move branded as ‘penny pinching stupidity’ by construction union Unite.
Members of Unite employed on social housing maintenance work in the borough of Tower Hamlets were told at a ‘tool box talk’ that beards were now banned. Unite has subsequently obtained a letter that states: “This is now a Mears nationwide policy for the entire company.”
The company is claiming that the ban on beards and the requirement on all workers being clean shaven is so that workers can “wear appropriate dust masks effectively”.
The only exceptions the company is willing to make is if a worker can’t shave for medical reasons, a dust mask can’t be worn for medical reasons or a person has a beard for religious reasons. The letter also states a ‘goatee’ may be acceptable.
In the first two cases a medical certificate is required and for religious reasons the worker needs to provide a letter from a “church /mosque/synagogue /temple etc.”. However, the letter also states “Even in the above circumstances, this is not a disclaimer, and not guaranteed.”
Unite claims that while facial hair can affect tight fitting face masks, which are often the cheapest option, other forms of masks which have their own airflow such as helmets, hoods and visors can be safely used with a beard.
Unite regional official for London Mark Soave said, “The arrogance of Mears is hair-raising. 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.
“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.”
Mears has taken to Twitter to defend its stance. “Just to be clear we haven’t “banned” #beards,” it tweeted. “We are simply protecting our workers’ safety in situations where dust masks are required…
“This is not only company policy but U.K. law. Alternatives to dust masks are offered, if suitable. We love beards!”
Unite national health and safety adviser Susan Murray said, “An employer should first assess the risks presented by exposure to hazardous substances, then identify the steps needed to adequately control the risks; put them into operation and ensure they remain effective. The use of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) may be one of the control measures, but the wearing of face masks should be a last resort and priority should always be given to eliminating the risk.
“Before any policy is introduced there should be full and proper consultation. It is crucial that the policy recognises the diversity of the workforce and the principle that workers should be consulted and given a choice of several correctly specified types of RPE so they can choose the one they like.”
Mark Elkington, Group Health and Safety Director of Mears Group, 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 we will supply that hood so Unite’s reference to cost saving is absolute nonsense.”
PICTURE CREDIT: Nasserdin