Unite, the UK’s largest construction union has condemned a decree by outsourced housing maintenance company Mears, which bars workers from having beards as ‘penny pinching stupidity’. Comment from Mark Soave Unite regional official for London.
Members of Unite employed on social housing maintenance work in the culturally diverse 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 marks effectively”.
Mears claims that all workers have to be clean shaven in order to be safely fitted with a tight fitting face mask when working in dusty environments. 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.”
While facial hair can affect tight fitting face masks (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.
“This is clearly a case of Mears going for the cheapest option and amounts to ‘penny pinching stupidity’. Other forms of masks are available and these should be offered to existing workers. 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.”
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.”