Health and Safety Vs the Hipsters – are beards to be outlawed on site?

We’ve been carrying out face fit tests and advising our clients on the selection and use of RPE (face masks and similar) for many years now.

Our position as occupational hygiene specialists means that we have been more exposed to this issue more than many of our peers and it has always been a difficult one to address.

The issue surrounding beards lies in both their current popularity and their incompatibility with good practice when it comes to protecting workers from dusts.  A simple mantra we keep returning to in our toolbox talks and support work for clients across the UK is that you won’t see a fire fighter with a beard.

We’ve been reading about the case of  Mears and the response from Unite (the Union) recently and whilst we do have sympathy with each party, overall we have to side with Mears rather than Unite.  The simple truth is that beards and RPE don’t mix well, and whilst you can use air fed helmets they’re not always the right choice.

See below for comments from both Mears and from Unite.  If you have your own questions please contact us to discuss what you can do.

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.”

Seal not possible with beard or heavy stubble

Mark Elkington, Group Health and Safety Director of Mears Group responded as follow:

“We are pretty surprised that Unite, who claim to have the safety of workers at heart have taken this disappointing stance.

Every employer in the UK has a legal responsibility to ensure that employees working in dusty or otherwise potentially hazardous environments are properly protected and in recent years employers have been prosecuted for failing to fulfil this duty.

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.

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.”

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Posted by Roger Hart

Free Event on Working at Height, Barnstaple 20 Oct. 2016 WWT and HSE

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear from experts on exactly how to HSEkeep you staff safe when working at height. To secure a place(s) please complete the registration page at: Book your free place now!

The construction industry has taken huge strides forward in tackling risk and reducing injury rateOS Logo Emails over recent years but still has a significant opportunity to make our high-hazard industry safer still and to drive down the alarming rates of accident and ill health linked to construction work in particular to refurbishment projects.

Event Programme
08:30 – 09:00 REGISTRATION TEA/COFFEE
09:00 – 09:15 Welcome and introduction
09:15 – 12:30 The programme will consist of talks and demonstrations on:

  1. Asbestos Awareness
  2. Working at Height
  3. Scaffolding
  4. Dust and Face Fit Testing
  5. Manual Handing

Mid-morning Break will include Tea/Coffee with Breakfast Roll. You will be asked to complete a feedback form in return for an  attendance certificate.

The event will consist of talks and demonstrations with the opportunity to ask questions from those within the industry as well as an HSE inspector.

Whether you are a self-employed jobbing builder or run a small building company this free event is a must. Places at this event are limited and it is likely to be highly popular – BOOK NOW!

Petroc College of Further Education,
Old Sticklepath Hill,
Barnstaple,
EX31 2BQ

Parking facilities are available on site. The college currently  operate a pay and display system on the premises at a cost of £1.00 per day, per vehicle.

Contact us on 01453 800100 if you need expert help with health and safety for a fixed cost or use contact us above of the form below to request a proposal;

Contact form

Please complete the form below and we promise to respond within 24 hrs. If you need more urgent help just call 01453 800109 and ask for Andrea.

Posted by Roger Hart
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