So, construction is now soldiering, is it?

The construction firm Mears has banned its workers from having beards, citing health and safety grounds.

Staff were told of the decision at a “tool box talk” in Tower Hamlets, east London, that beards were now banned so that workers could “wear appropriate dust masks effectively”.

Mears has said workers need to be clean-shaven in order to be safely fitted with a tight-fitting face mask when working in dusty environments, and exceptions are only made if a worker can’t shave or a mask cannot be worn for medical or religious reasons. But for the company to allow this either a medical certificate or a letter from a place of worship must be presented.

Can we say elfnsafetygonemad yet?

41 comments on “So, construction is now soldiering, is it?

  1. They may have a point.

    When we were sailing down to the Falklands ll the Navy guys shaved off their beards to make sure their respirators fitted correctly. The master gunner on our LSL had had his for over 30 years, he claimed.

  2. When we went “beards off” for Granby (Gulf War 1), I assumed the Jimmy (who I had never seen w/o his “full set”) was one of the new staff officers and introduced myself to him.

    That went well …

  3. “If it is a Health and Safety thing how can there be a religious exemption?”

    Well, yes. It is nonsensical. The “Health and Safety” bit here is the company head office not getting firebombed or machine gunned.

  4. their caption photo doesn’t exactly say “construction worker” to me.

    Wouldn’t it be amusing if this ban was extended to the Guardian offices and hipster coffee joints in Hoxton?

  5. When I worked at a former nuke power station the guys working in the reactor building would shave before coming in to work and again at lunchtime to keep the seal working on their masks

  6. “Sikhs and motorbike helmets?”

    But, why is “because my sky fairy says so” a good reason and “because I like the wind through my hair” isn’t?

  7. The only problem I have with this is that there is a religious exemption. It is perfectly right that a company enforces its safety rules for everyone’s protection.

  8. A beard ban that won’t affect the beard boys is a stupid waste of time –and open to legal challenge.

    Also your health is your choice not theirs. And piss on health and safety..

    The arrogance still needs beating out of them.

  9. “Staff were told of the decision at a “tool box talk” in Tower Hamlets”

    Forget the health and safety thing. Management have introduced a ‘tool box talk’; hang the fuckers.

  10. ‘Toolbox talk’: a workplace event involving the manager talking and the staff pondering what a tool he is and that they would like to kick him hard in the box.

  11. “If it is a Health and Safety thing how can there be a religious exemption?”

    If you are religious, you get another life….

  12. Ironman,

    HER box? Women in construction, you know, and most of them aren’t affected by much of a beard problem (well some are!)

  13. “If it is a Health and Safety thing how can there be a religious exemption?”

    Because God will provide. Well, one god or another. They’re all the same really, aren’t they, gods?

  14. Benaud – “If it is a Health and Safety thing how can there be a religious exemption?”

    It is a lesser evil thing. A minimising of deaths. In this case, if the lives saved by using a helmet would be less than the lives lost to religious loons inclined to murder and die for their faith, you give them an exemption.

    That’s why the CoE never gets one.

  15. “Also your health is your choice not theirs. And piss on health and safety”

    Until ten years later when you decide that actually you aren’t actually that keen on asbestosis and decide to sue them.

    Anyway, how far do we take this “your health is your choice” Do you think it would be acceptable to allow people into bio hazard labs without PPE? Do you think railside workers should be allowed to work while wearing combat camo instead of hi-viz? Lumberjackers can refuse to undertake chainsaw safety training?

    Besides which your entire premise is bollocks. If you are working on a plant and caustic soda is splashed in your eyes, it’s not just “your safety” that matters. It’s the fact you could bring the entire plant to a halt while your co-workers try and prevent you from losing your eyesight. That the emergency services have to attend site; that the company has now, perhaps permanently, lost a member of staff and has to find someone new and train them.

    If you want to work for a company you abide by their rules or you eff off, no matter what those rules are.

  16. PS, It’s always amusing the way journalists put things like “toolbox talks” in inverted commas, it just shows they’ve never had a proper job in their entire lives.

  17. With the reemergence of black lung in the coal industry (Australia and South Africa), clean shaven rules have been introduced to ensure dust masks have a good seal. You can have a moustache as long as it is wholly within the mask. I’m not aware that it has ever come up, but I very much doubt that a religious exemption would be allowed.

    Tool box talks are used to convey important safety information at the start of every shift. They’ve been around for a very long time in the mining industry.

    Mr Ecks,

    The law does not allow your health to be your choice in a work place, it imposes a clear duty of care on employers. In Australia, the various regulatory bodies, urged on by the unions, will prosecute at the slightest suspicion of an employer not exercising its duty of care to the fullest extent. Employers, therefore, have to ensure that their health and safety systems are based on ‘best practice’. And of course, when someone does get sick or injured, they expect to receive compensation from the employer.

  18. Recent episode of doctor who had a small person working in a biohazard lab and in a few shots it was clear they couldn’t have actually reached a number of the controls, of course the person who screwed up putting the entire world at risk was a middle aged white male.

  19. That’s the case on oil and gas plants with high H2S concentrations. I once remember seeing an Emirati with a beard the size of Bin Laden’s protesting that the mask could fit over his rug.

  20. Management have introduced a ‘tool box talk’; hang the fuckers.

    Tool box talks are essential on a construction site. I’ve taken part in plenty, given enough of them. Very, very useful things that not only stop people getting hurt but also (as I have seen) kept a colleague of mine out of a Russian prison.

  21. “You can have a moustache as long as it is wholly within the mask”: will this mean a comeback for the Hitler toothbrush moustache?

  22. ‘Because God will provide. Well, one god or another. They’re all the same really, aren’t they, gods?’

    I lost a good golfing buddy to such a religious argument. I am monotheistic: I believe there is just one Golf God. He is polytheistic: he believes there are many, like the God of Putting, etc. He is obviously wrong, so we don’t play together any more.

  23. dearieme

    “Because God will provide. Well, one god or another. They’re all the same really, aren’t they, gods?”

    I urge you to attend diversity education, you’ve not got the message:

    There is no God except Allah (swt) and Mohammed (pbuh) is his messenger.

  24. dearieme – “will this mean a comeback for the Hitler toothbrush moustache?”

    If you have a look at a lot of photos of US servicemen from around the 1980s you will see exactly this for exactly this reason. Beards were banned because of gas masks. The soldiers grew little Hitler mo’s. The Brass were not amused.

  25. will this mean a comeback for the Hitler toothbrush moustache?

    I recall reading that AH kept his moustache styled that way to show that he’d been a stormtrooper: very much a deliberate statement. The gas masks issued to those units wouldn’t seal over anything more abundant.

    Anyone know if that’s true?

  26. @ Tim Newman, indeed, it was a poor shift handover that caused the Piper Alpha disaster.

    But of course ‘elf ‘n safety is all bollocks, right up to the point you climb into a baler and get your legs chopped off because you didn’t bother isolating it.

  27. magnusw is quite correct about the motivation for enforcing H&S requirements. Having had to enforce them, I personally don’t give a sweet fuck if you want to work at height without a safety harness. I do give a fuck about you landing on me. Also the fucking nightmare you’re going to unleash when you hit the ground. Part of which will be my responsibility for allowing you to work at height without the safety harness. Deep, bankrupting doo-doo.

  28. I’ve generally found H&S rules applied on construction sites are pretty sensible, mainly because people who run building sites have sense. The batshit insane H&S decisions you see being made are done so by jobsworths who have never completed a task in their lives.

  29. Magnus–In life you place your own value on that life.

    My Grandfather died from lung cancer likely occasioned by massive exposure to asbestos dust on the 1930s. He died long before working class people sued anybody .

    As to your second paragraph –damn right. Their life their choice.

    Now with obvious dangers such as chainsaws and acid etc ignoring precautions would be foolish. But when it comes to the amount of dust that a beard might let past a dust mask then “fuck off and take your job with you ” is a just reply. Or are bricks made out of cyanide nowadays?

    Complying with legal bullshit is what the companies are about and they and the political and bureaucratic scum can both stuff their bogus compassion along with their edicts.

  30. “Their life their choice” and this is the bullshit premise I referred to earlier. It’s not just their life, accidents impose external costs on other parties. Take for example the one scenario I mentioned which you didn’t refer to as foolish, a railside worker wearing camo instead of hi-viz. Better yet imagine they are a roadside worker on a motorway. They get distracted, step out into the flow of traffic by mistake.

    In hi-viz, the oncoming car might spot them early and have time to brake, result, a bit of a tailback that clears after a few minutes.

    In camo, roadside worker gets turned into mushy cornflakes. Tough shit you say, his choice. Except now the motorway has to be closed for a few hours, tens of thousands of people face significant delays. Activity on the construction site comes to a halt while the emergency services clear up and investigate. Members of staff are hauled off to be interviewed. Some of them will be traumatised and need time off. The driver will be traumatised. The employing company now has a very black mark on their record when they tender for other contracts and are asked about their safety record.

    Accidents have ripple effects and external costs, it is not just about the safety of one individual.

  31. Tim, yes, I have at times in my career had involvement in H&S, Environment, Sustainability, and by far the most sensible of those is H&S. HASWA is a very good piece of legislation, non-prescriptive, open to reasonable interpretation.

    The ‘Elf ‘n safety gawn mad issues you see in newspapers are never due to the HASWA, they are always due to either companies getting sued by ambulance chasers, or; over cautious individuals in companies who are terrified of getting sued.

    You have to be really fucking dumb to end up in the position that the HSE are taking action against you.

  32. A large proportion of the health and safety rules in mines, on oil rigs and on construction sites make good sense because unfortunately they were written in blood rather than having some jobsworth dream up pointless rules to prevent unlikely scenarios.

  33. @DocBud: Indeed. I remember having to do a safety course before I was allowed to work on a coal mine in QLD. The course was two days of scaring the crap out you by what had gone wrong in the past so you’d follow the rules once you got on site.

  34. Health and Safety regulations are a classic example of the law of diminishing returns. The first ones to be introduced deal with the biggest and most obvious hazards. They involve things like fire alarms and emergency exits which provide clear and obvious benefits. The next few deal with lesser hazards, the ones after that with hazards that weren’t important enough to be in the first two groups, and so on. The potential benefits get smaller in each round. Eventually, you reach the point where everything that is practical and realistic is already being done and the only need for new regulations is to account for new technology. Britain has had Health and Safety regulation for so long now that it is extremely difficult for anyone to come up with any new regulations that aren’t just gold plating the gold plating. Risks are now far more likely to arise from the existing regulations being ignored or not enforced than from any lack of regulation.

  35. “Risks are now far more likely to arise from the existing regulations being ignored or not enforced than from any lack of regulation.”

    That seems right to me.

  36. Tim Newman

    “I’ve generally found H&S rules applied on construction sites are pretty sensible, mainly because people who run building sites have sense. The batshit insane H&S decisions you see being made are done so by jobsworths who have never completed a task in their lives.”

    I run large construction projects from the start to past the operator taking over and running it.

    The H&S nightmare and paper war starts when the office staff move in.

  37. Elf’n’safety problems are often caused by orcs.
    Like the time my elder son’s school ‘phoned me at work (because my wife was not at home) and insisted that I need to come to take him home to get his asthma inhaler because he had a bad attack. OK, my boss took it on the chin and let me go, covering for me for the rest of the afternoon, *but* that meant nearly five minutes running to the tube, five minutes on the tube, a wait for the train, more than half-an-hour on the train, best part of ten minutes running to the school, collecting son from reception, over five minutes walking to the bus station, ten minutes on the bus, nearly ten minutes walking home from the stop – so well over an hour of agony/discomfort when a teacher could have driven him home to get his inhaler in ten minutes or less.
    They said it was Health and Safety Rules. If it was so serious that they needed to ‘phone me at work, he could have died by the time I got to his school

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