Unite Union and Mears in Dust-Up as Contractor Bans Maintenance Workers from Having Beards

Unite and Mears are splitting hairs over the contractor’s plan to restrict its housing maintenance staff from having beards.

When criticised by the workers’ union, the developer claims that it wants all of its employees to be clean shaven so that dust masks may be worn successfully. The union calls the move “hair-raising” and “penny pinching stupidity”

Members of Unite were recently informed of the company-wide ban on facial hair during a tool box lecture.

No one else is free from the rule, not even employees with medical reasons for not shaving or using a dust mask.

Mears Group director of health and safety Mark Elkington is surprised that the union does not support the proposal.

‘We’re astonished that Unite, who claim to care about worker safety,’ he said.

“As a result, companies have been held liable in recent years for failing to provide adequate safety precautions for workers exposed to dust or other potentially hazardous conditions.

“In order for a dust mask to be successful, it must be able to form a tight seal with the wearer. That is not possible with a beard or even severe stubble. As a result, we could risk punishment if the Health and Safety Executive conducted a site check and discovered that our personnel were wearing dust masks that were not properly sealed.”

Elkington said the alternative to a dust mask is a full hood over the head “which brings its own risks”.

“Full-coverage hoods are unpopular among many of our agents because they can interfere with their hearing and field of vision. Customers don’t enjoy seeing workers with these hoods because of how they appear to them, and it might be difficult for them to wear “he stated.

“Unite’s claim of cost savings is completely untrue because we will offer any masks that are determined to be more appropriate by a risk assessment or by a worker’s insistence that they be provided.

“A poorly-fitting face mask might lead to respiratory sickness in one of our employees, and we keep the safety of our employees at the top of our priorities.

“Aside from that, it is important to stress that this only affects a small percentage of our workforce.

“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.”

But Unite regional official for London Mark Soave said: “The arrogance of Mears is hair-raising. This is an extremely sensitive matter that touches on a wide range of cultural, religious, and personal concerns. Instead members have been delivered a directive from up high.

‘Penny pinching foolishness,’ as Mears put it, is what this is all about.’ said one observer. Existing employees should have the option of choosing from a variety of different types of masks.

Unite will always prioritise the safety of its members, and inflaming your staff with hostility is never the way to go forward. Mears should rescind the decision and meet with both Unite and the staff to discuss its implications.

“An employer should first assess the risks presented by exposure to hazardous substances, then identify the steps necessary to adequately control the risks; implement them; and ensure that they remain effective,” said Susan Murray, national health and safety adviser for Unite. Face masks should only be worn as a last resort and only if all other options have been exhausted, including the use of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE).

‘Before implementing any policy, stakeholders should be fully and appropriately consulted. It is vital that the policy respects the variety of the workforce and the notion that workers should be consulted and given a choice of various correctly stated types of RPE so they can choose the one they like.”

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Last Updated on December 29, 2021


Author: Indra Gupta

Indra is an in-house writer with a love of Newcastle United and all things sustainable.

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