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Don’t cut corners with health and safety

Published 12 June 2017

When workers on a construction site were told they had to be clean shaven an employer’s policy regarding the appearance of its workers once again made headline news.

The beard ban introduced by the construction firm is for health and safety reasons and to ensure that face masks fit tightly when staff are working in dusty environments.

A letter reportedly sent to employees warned that a failure to adhere to the rule ‘would be taken down the disciplinary route.’

The policy became a news story and received widespread media coverage (1) as can tend to happen when health and safety is cited as reason for a new workplace policy.

Previous examples of what is said to be ‘health and safety gone mad’ have sparked a media frenzy. This includes a story about an award-winning lollipop lady banned from high-fiving pupils crossing the road because it may distract them (2).

All employers have a duty of care (3) to their employees, which means that they should take all steps which are reasonably possible to ensure their health, safety and wellbeing.

Health and safety should always be a top priority for employers and should never be ignored as it can have serious and costly consequences.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) (4) and local authorities are responsible for enforcing health and safety legislation. Every year the HSE prosecute employers who are fined millions pounds for failing to protect their staff, clients or members of the public.

The most recent figures which are for 2015/16 show that prosecutions led to fines totalling to £38.3 million compared to the £18.1 million in fines from 2014/15 (5).

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (6) is an act of Parliament and the main piece of UK health and safety legislation. It places a duty on all employers "to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work" of all their employees.

References:

1. Khomami N. Construction firm Mears bans workers from having beards. The Guardian [Internet]. 2017 Jun 1 [cited 2017 Jun 12]; Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jun/01/construction-firm-mears-bans-workers-from-having-beards

2. Reporters T. Outcry as school lollipop lady banned from ‘high-fiving’ children. The Telegraph [Internet]. 2016 Dec 15 [cited 2017 Jun 12]; Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/15/outcry-school-lollipoplady-banned-high-fiving-children/

3. The Cube 123 Albion Street. An employer’s duty of care can manifest itself in many different ways. Find out more | Acas workplace snippets [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2017 Jun 12]. Available from: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3751

4. HSE: About the Health and Safety Executive [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jun 12]. Available from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/aboutus/index.htm

5. Statistics - Enforcement [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jun 12]. Available from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/enforcement.htm

6. Participation E. Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jun 12]. Available from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1974/37

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