Facial Hair in the Workplace
- Date: Tuesday 21st February 2017
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As the recent trend for designer stubble and full beards continues, employers need to consider the impact of this trend within the workplace. In some sectors, employees with facial hair may be seen as a positive as it reflects the customer base such as in fashion retail or trendy bars aimed at the younger market. However facial hair within industry may pose issues and risks for safe working practices.
Employers need to consider the incompatibility of facial hair with respiratory protective equipment (RPE). RPE is issued as a means of control to prevent the inhalation of hazardous substances at work. When worn and used correctly, RPE can prevent serious lung conditions caused by inhaling dust and other contaminants.
Disposable masks, re-usable half masks and full face masks all come under the definition of RPE.
However facial hair can prevent these types of mask from forming a good seal, by creating gaps around the edges of the mask. This allows contaminants into the mask, to be breathed in by the wearer.
Latest research by the Health and Safety Executive has shown that as facial hair grows, the protection offered by a tight-fitting mask reduces. Facial hair which is not in the region of the face seal may be acceptable. However, it is important that the facial hair does not interfere with the seal of the mask. Where there is a requirement for tight fitting masks there is a clear need for monitoring and close management.
Aligned to this employers need to have a policy to ensure a fair approach to the rules on facial hair in the work place. Where relevant employers should consider a clean shaven policy which will require close supervision to ensure it is enforced.
However employers must taken into consideration any religious requirement for an employee to have facial hair and also any medical condition or skin complaint that prevents daily shaving. Where such scenarios do arise there are solutions available through RPE that does not require a tight seal. Options include helmets, visors or hoods.
Breath Freely have produced an excellent advisory fact sheet about this subject which can be found at: http://www.breathefreely.org.uk/assets/rpe-fact-sheet.pdf
Source: SSG - Manuela Grossmann