by Andy Bishop, Health and Safety Consultant

A few weeks ago, I travelled to Brighton to deposit my youngest daughter and all her associated belongings into her Halls of residence at University.  In strict adherence to the law stated by one Patrick O’Murphy, her flat was on the top floor of the four available and the lift had decided that it would be best if it didn’t exert itself on moving in day!

I completed a dynamic Manual Handling Assessment and introduced a number of control measures to ensure my state of health was the same at the end of the job as it was at the start, they involved utilising the power invested in my appearance.  With my bushy grey beard and baldy head it’s easy to be mistaken for a frail old man! As well as looking good, my beard, like Gandalfs has magical powers!  It has other benefits, it allows to continue using a comb, I can still look in the shampoo aisle in Boots (other suppliers of hair care products are available) and it keeps my chin warm in winter.

In short, I love my beard! As I go about my business, I meet other bearded men and we often share a ‘nod of respect’ as the first feelings of ‘beard envy’ arise.  As the great Bard, William Shakespeare once remarked ‘He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man.’ It gives my colleagues a handy point of reference if they need to describe me ‘Oh you mean Andy, big bloke, baldy head, grey beard’ I hear them remark!

I first started dabbling with full facial topiary about six years ago after I left the Army.  In the military all males ‘must’ be clean shaven below the top lip! Soldiers are permitted to wear a moustache but never a ‘full set’ (beard, moustache and side whiskers). Sailors in Her Majesties Royal Navy are however permitted to wear a full set and can be ordered to shave it off if it is not full enough! On operations in Iraq, shaving was compulsory every day, on operations in Afghanistan, this was relaxed to three days and sometimes up to a week.  The reason for this is the weapons that the enemy had in their arsenal, the Iraqis quite famously had possession of chemical and biological weaponry, the Taliban did not.  The basic Personal Protective Equipment provided to protect soldiers in a chemical environment is the standard issue respirator, a full-face mask with particulate and vapour filters that relies on a close seal to the face to be effective in filtering out what ever nasties those pesky enemies put in the air.

I’m lucky these days to be in a situation where I can choose to wear ‘a full set’ without fear of disciplinary action and extra weekend guard duties or similar summary punishments for not being clean shaven every day of the week.

However, if my boss decides, following risk assessment that RPE is required and they choose to provide me with a close-fitting respirator or face mask to protect my health, then I shall have no option but to shave off my beloved beard and put my chubby babyface on display to all and sundry.

I can guarantee that I would be less than enthused by this, but as I am not practicing a religion that requires me to wear a beard and I don’t have a valid medical reason to wear one, then I’m afraid that I will have to comply with their wishes.

They could look to source me a hooded powered respirator that doesn’t rely on a close seal, but they are really expensive to procure, store and maintain, I’m pretty sure that I’d be dusting off the old Wilkinson Sword (endorsement enquiries welcome) and putting the boar bristled shaving brush into action around my chiselled jaw.

All employers know that they must, as far as is reasonably practicable, protect the health of all of their employees.

This general duty is reciprocated by the employee’s duty to cooperate with the employer, particularly on arrangements that are made to protect the employee in question.

So, when the day comes that I am supplied with respiratory protective equipment that relies on a close seal to my face, I shall wearily trudge to the bathroom and succumb to the prospect of a cold, unadorned, silky smooth chin.

 ‘…Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, and thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pitch and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry and lose the name of action’

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