Why are beards being banned on building sites?

Sporting a full beard or cultivating a carefully kept goatee? Is Movember your favourite time of year? You may have to bite the bullet and shave it off next time you need to wear a dust mask. Construction firm Mears has hit the headlines by banning beards on-site for all its workers.

Why are beards being banned?

In this case, the claim is health and safety. Mears say that all workers need to be clean shaven to ensure that dust masks fit and work effectively. Contaminated air can leak in around the edges of masks which don’t fit close to the skin. Some fear it’s ‘penny-pinching’ and others worry about a lack of sensitivity for cultural, religious and personal reasons.

Are beards unprofessional?

Where previously people have seen beards as lazy, casual or even dirty, beards have now become a symbol for maturity, confidence and strength. As you’d expect, in coffee shops, pubs, breweries and other millennial hangouts, you’ll find full grown beards coupled with plaid shirts and tattoos. But the boardroom is becoming a hotbed for full faces of hair, with CEOs like Sergey Brin of Google and Oracle’s Larry Ellison sporting beards. And Richard Branson has never been afraid to keep his chin warm with a slightly scruffy goatee. The conservative view that professional means a suit, tie and freshly shaved face is being challenged – even our own politicians have started to sport fine faces of hair.

Are beards unsafe on building sites?

When it comes to health and safety, the sheer scale of guidelines and rules can be overwhelming. The introduction of a ‘beard ban’ may seem a step too far. Mears claim that their new ‘no beard’ policy is backed by the Health and Safety executive and that they are fulfilling a legal obligation to protect workers from dust and hazardous materials in the workplace. In 2015, JSP launched a product which combats this and can be worn by people with facial hair. More expensive than standard dust masks, this would allow workers to keep the fuzz, no matter how well grown, and still be fully protected on site. The question of cost rears its ugly head again.

Is a ban legal?

It isn’t clear if this is a legal ban and there are many expectations of employees to appear professional and safe in appearance when at work. However, changes in legislation over the past 10 years means that if challenged, the company may find themselves losing. The decision has been slammed by Mark Soave, Unite’s officer for London, for its lack of thought and consultation. With so many issues to consider, including medical and cultural reasons, this question may keep reappearing, just like a 5 o’clock shadow.

To grow or not to grow?

Whether you’re on-site or in the office, there are pros and cons to embracing the hairier side of life. Beards can change and improve your face shape, give you a bit of natural insulation and save you the trouble of shaving every single day. Keeping it in check can be as much work as shaving though and can cause itching as it grows in for the first time. Carefully consider your commitment before throwing away your razor!
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