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When fashion and safety collide – the beard debate
Posted by David Cant on June 14, 2017

When fashion and safety collide – the beard debate

Construction worker with a beardFacial hair is hugely popular at the moment – but it may also be placing your employee in danger

A quick look out the window proves that the beard remains a must-have male fashion accessory. As we approach peak beard, it is clear that the trend is about much more than just failing to shave.

Hundreds of different balms, oils and shampoos are testament to the care and attention being given to facial hair by their wearers. And it’s not just hipsters who sport big, bushy whiskers.

Trouble on site

One social housing firm – Mears Group – has taken the unpopular step of banning male employees from growing beards. Every worker is expected to be clean-shaven.

Far from being an attempt to improve the general appearance of their staff however, the Mears decision is actually quite important. According to the company’s own health and safety audits, beards prevent mandatory dust masks from fitting correctly.

Far from being a draconian edict against fashion, the new rule is designed to keep workers safe. Dust masks are a vital defence against inhaling particulates like asbestos dust – something Mears Group employees are regularly exposed to when working on site.

Some special caveats

After negotiating with their employees, Mears Group management has relaxed their rules slightly. Goatees may still be permitted – so long as the wearer can prove their dust mask fits perfectly.

Other workers required to wear a beard or facial hair as part of their religion may also be exempt from the new rules. They will need to provide a letter from their doctor or place of worship if that is the case.

A very sensible precaution

Some parties are not convinced that the dust mask ruling is about personal safety however. Speaking to the press, a Unite spokesman claimed that the move was purely financial – by banning facial hair, Mears can avoid the additional cost of buying special dust masks designed to fit tightly over a large beard.

Whatever the motivation, the truth is that Mears workers may lose their beards, but they will be a lot better protected as a result. Asbestosis and other industrial dust related illnesses still kill thousands of workers across the world every year – and dust masks significantly reduce the risk of catching one.

Although unpopular, other construction firms should consider similar rules for their own employees. Your business has a duty to supply workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) – like dust masks – but your employees also have a duty to use that gear properly. They then have a duty to protect themselves by using PPE correctly.

If beards are causing problems with dust masks, they may need to go.

Q. Why would you not want to wear a Dust mask that wasn’t effective?

To learn more about protecting your employees, and to discuss the potential problems caused by beards, please get in touch.


Director at Veritas Consulting. 20+ years as a Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner with a brain you can pick. A trusted, risk savvy portfolio professional who is fluent in practical advice and an effective workplace solutionist.

You can find him on - Twitter and Facebook also Linkedin

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