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Written by
on 18 June 2018


A group of builders has found a loophole in the rules banning shorts on their site – but it’s not as funny as they think.

Several U.K. newspapers picked up on an unusual story this week about a group of bricklayers wearing dresses on site. Their unusual choice of attire stems from a recent ban on shorts.

According to site operator Bellway Homes, workers wearing shorts were at an increased risk of injury. To maintain standards of health and safety, bricklayers are now required to wear full trousers or jeans.

Workers find a loophole

As temperatures in Chertsey reached 26°, contractors complained that the new clothing restriction was particularly uncomfortable. But a workaround was discovered in gender equality legislation.

By wearing skirts and dresses – a right protected by law – the team were able to better cope with the temperatures. And because the right to wear women’s clothing is protected by law, there is nothing Bellway Homes can do to stop them.

Each of the workers involved has since been photographed proudly wearing their summer dresses, hard hats and steel toe-capped boots.

Not funny

Tabloid newspapers have reported the story with glee. There is something inherently amusing about big, burly bricklayers wearing dresses. And by “beating the rules”, this looks like a story about unfairly treated workers putting one over their draconian, elf n safety obsessed employers.

But the reality is that the shorts ban is designed to protect employees. And by circumventing the rules, the Bellway bricklayers are risking their own safety.

Which isn’t funny at all.

Great headlines, terrible story

No matter how uncomfortable trousers are in hot weather, Bellway Homes was acting in the best interests of their contractors. The decision to ban shorts was not another case of bureaucracy gone mad.

Unfortunately, the media’s reaction to this story normalises and excuses the poor onsite behaviour. Yes, the brickies may not be doing anything wrong legally, but they are endangering themselves – and those around them.

Irresponsible behaviour should not be condoned or encouraged – and Bellway Homes now face a serious problem trying to raise standards on site. It may be that the construction industry needs to lobby government for a change to the law to specify gender-neutral standards for appropriate clothing on construction sites. Or even a change to gender equality laws to prevent it being misused in ways that place people in danger.

At the moment, however, there is no simple answer to the stand-off. Allowing workers to continue risking their health is unethical – and bad for business. Management needs to meet with workers and try to agree a way forward that reduces risks to health.

If a compromise cannot be reached, Bellway may need to take a harder line. Health and safety are non-negotiable, and workers must be protected – even if that comes at the cost of personal comfort.

For more help and advice about dealing with PPE and employees who undermine site rules, please get in touch.

A chartered (fellow) safety and risk management practitioner with 20+ years of experience. David provides a healthy dose of how-to articles, advice and guidance to make compliance easier for construction professionals, Architects and the built environment. Get social with David on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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