Facial hair has always been in fashion in one way or another. However, you’d have to be blind not to have noticed the upwards trend in beard growth over the past few years.
One company wasn’t thrilled with workers turning up unshaven, and has just issued a ban on beards and heavy stubble.
In a letter to staff spotted on Twitter, UK building firm The Mears Group explains that excessive facial hair inhibits the correct fitting of gas masks. This makes it a health and safety issue, as contaminated air could leak through the gaps into the lungs, the company said.
A goatee may be acceptable, as will a beard if you’re growing one for medical or religious reasons, but you’ll need a note from your mosque, temple, synagogue or GP.
The rule will be rolled out nationwide to all 20,000 people employed by Mears, but the company has received negative feedback about its decision.
“The arrogance of Mears is hair-raising,” said Unite regional official for London Mark Soave, according to Construction News. “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.”
He added that the idea amounts to “penny pinching stupidity,” because other masks are available if the company was willing to spend more money.
Mark Elkington, health & safety director at Mears responded by saying he was surprised and disappointed by Unite’s opinion, and said there is no realistic alternative to the ban.
He said that no dust mask can work effectively if it doesn’t come into contact with the skin, and the only alternative is a full hood over the head which carries its own risks because it affects hearing and sight.
“It is vital to note, however, that if a risk assessment shows that the hood is a better option for a job or a worker insisted on having one, then, if assessed to be suitable, we will supply that hood, so Unite’s reference to cost saving is absolute nonsense,” Elkington added. “One has to question the real motives of Unite which has chosen not to take the safety of its members seriously in order to make a cheap point.”
Beard health and safety
In 2015, scientific evidence appeared to suggest that the cleanliness of men’s beards was comparable to toilets. Research conducted by Quest Diagnostics microbiologist John Golobic found that the bacteria taken from swabs was the same as bacteria found in faecal matter.
However, last year it was discovered that having facial hair might actually be good for you. A 2014 study resurfaced that showed clean-shaven men had a higher rate of harmful MRSA on their faces than their bearded counterparts.
It suggested that the beard acts as a kind of antibiotic itself, and in some instances found microbes lurking in the hairs that could kill certain kinds of bacteria.
While the health and safety concerns are up for debate, if you want to keep your job at Mears, it looks like you’ll have to rock the clean-shaven look for a while.