In response to criticism from Unite the Union about a letter sent to some operatives regarding the use of dust masks and beards. Mark Elkington, Group Health and Safety Director of Mears Group has said, “We are pretty surprised that Unite, who claim to have the safety of workers at heart have taken this disappointing stance.
“Every employer in the UK has a legal responsibility to ensure that employees working in dusty or otherwise potentially hazardous environments are properly protected and in recent years employers have been prosecuted for failing to fulfil this duty.
“The simple fact is that no dust mask can work effectively unless it forms a seal against the skin. That is not possible with a beard or even heavy stubble. If the Health and Safety Executive did a spot site visit and found workers wearing dust masks that were not sealed against the face then we would be liable to prosecution.
“The alternative to a dust mask is a full hood over the head, which brings its own risks. For example many of our operatives do not like wearing a full hood and it can affect hearing and line of sight. It can also be uncomfortable to wear and can raise concerns with our clients who do not like to see workers in such hoods because of how it looks to customers.
“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 we will supply that hood so Unite’s reference to cost saving is absolute nonsense.
“If one of our workers suffers respiratory illness as a result of a poor fitting mask then that is our responsibility and we place the safety of our workers at the top of the priority list.
“Finally it is worthy of note that this affects a very small percentage of our workers who would be in that environment.
“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.”