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British building company issues ban on beards

Mears Group, a UK-based housing company, has banned its builders from growing beards or heavy stubble in a bid to ensure that dust masks remain tightly sealed

Builders who maintain longer facial hair without Mears Group’s consent could face disciplinary action.
Builders who maintain longer facial hair without Mears Group’s consent could face disciplinary action.

Mears Group, a UK-headquartered construction company, has banned its builders from growing beards or heavy stubble.

The move forms part of the firm’s efforts to ensure that dust masks remain tightly sealed around employees’ faces.

Mears Group has informed workers that they must be clean shaven, according to The Times. Goatees may be permitted, providing they do not hinder the effectiveness of dust masks, the UK daily added.

Trade union, Unite, has criticised Mears Group’s decision to ban beards, accusing the company of implementing the “cheapest option” at the expense of workers’ cultural, religious, and personal choices.

Mark Soave, Unite’s officer for London, 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.

“This is clearly a case of Mears going for the cheapest option,” Soave added. “Other forms of masks are available, and these should be offered to existing workers.”

However, Mears Group contends that alternative dust mask designs, which typically take the form of a full hood, present their own risks. The company also argued that the new rule would affect only a “very small percentage” of its workforce.

In a statement issued on its website, Mears Group defended its decision to ban beards. Mark Elkington, the company’s group health and safety director, commented: “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,” added Elkinton.

Any employee who wishes to grow or retain beards for medical or religious reasons must provide a letter from their physician or place of worship. Those who maintain longer facial hair without Mears Group’s consent could face disciplinary action.

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Construction Week - Issue 745
Jun 30, 2019