Mears Group bans beards in the workplace

Housing group Mears has banned its contractor and maintenance workers from having beards over health and safety concerns.

In a letter to staff, they said employees who work in a “potentially dusty environment” must be clean shaven to be able to “wear appropriate dust masks effectively.”

It added: “A ‘goatee’ may be acceptable so long as it does not hinder the correct fitting…of dust masks.”

Mears Group, from Gloucester, said the policy is now being rolled out nation-wide for the entire company after the issue was discussed at a health and safety meeting.

However, the firm said there are exceptions, including whether a beard is worn for religious reasons. But it said a note must be provided by the relevant “church, mosque, synagogue, temple.”

Health and Safety Executive guidelines on beards and facemasks say “facial hair – stubble and beards – makes it impossible to get a good seal of the mask to the face”.

Trade union Unite reacted to the news with condemnation, stating the ban as being “penny pinching stupidity.”

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.”

In response Mears’ group health & safety director Mark Elkington said: “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.