Shaving your beard could save your life.
When you’re wearing respiratory protective equipment (RPE) at work, you should be clean shaven to make sure it’s forming a seal and protecting you from breathing in harmful materials.
Information on RPE for workers and businesses, including how to find the right respirator for you can be found on the RPE webpage.
Even a small amount of stubble can prevent respiratory protective equipment, or RPE, forming a correct seal.
This can mean while you are wearing the appropriate RPE, you’re still inhaling potentially harmful materials which may cause health issues.
A clean shave goes hand in hand with the correct RPE for the job.
Depending on the nature of your job, you may use RPE regularly or sporadically, but you should be clean shaven whenever you use RPE.
Businesses must take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure your health and safety at work. This doesn’t mandate them to provide shaving equipment when you are using RPE – but if they choose to, that’s excellent.
A business taking reasonably practicable steps can mean making sure you are aware ahead of time that you will need to wear RPE for a specific task to allow you to shave.
Businesses can also consider alternative methods to keep you safe including allocating other staff to the task.
The Human Rights Act covers issues of cultural or faith-based discrimination and an employer can’t make you shave if it contravenes the Human Rights Act.
If you have a personal reason for your facial hair, there are alternatives to being clean shaven. You should talk with your employer to see what alternatives can be put in place.
Ensuring your workers are aware of the need to be clean shaven when wearing RPE is an important step.
Reminding workers to shave before they come in to work or allowing them to return home to shave (if applicable) are small steps which can protect their health.
Alternatively if another, clean shaven, worker is available you can assign them the task which requires the use of RPE and remind the worker with facial hair of the risks of wearing RPE which doesn’t form a correct seal.
You should have conversations with your workers to understand their reasons for having facial hair. If their facial hair has a cultural/faith-based/personal significance, you should work with them to find alternative solutions.
You can find further advice for businesses on RPE on WorkSafe’s RPE advice for businesses webpage.
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