New Zealand's safety watchdog has launched a new campaign to encourage workers who wear respiratory protective equipment (RPE) for work to be clean shaven.
'Shaving your beard could save your life' is the message behind WorkSafe's new initiative, created after inspectors reported a lot of workers with beards while wearing RPE, not realising realise this is putting their health at risk.
'Even a small amount of facial hair can prevent RPE from forming a protective seal, potentially exposing workers to all manner of materials while they work,' said Api Poutasi, WorkSafe's manager of health and technical services.
'We want to make sure all workers are looking after their health,' he explained. 'Getting cancer or another illness because you prioritised stylish facial hair isn’t a good idea.'
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WorkSafe estimates show cancers and respiratory harm account for 31% of work-related health problems in New Zealand.
'Wearing RPE is one step to prevent yourself adding to this statistic, but it needs to go hand-in-hand with having a shave to make sure any RPE which is worn is forming a proper seal,' noted Api.
'If you wouldn’t go on a construction site without wearing boots, if you wouldn’t drive your car without wearing your seatbelt, you shouldn’t wear RPE without having a shave.'
Although the regulator does recognise that not every worker can comply – for some workers facial hair is part of their culture or faith.
'As with all risk mitigation and interventions, businesses must consider every situation individually because not every worker or site is the same,' Api added.
'Businesses need to consider alternative protective measures for those workers – there are ways to prevent dust and materials being inhaled, or maybe those workers need to perform another role on site to avoid that risk.'