Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/nclexion/public_html/wp-content/themes/jnews/class/ContentTag.php on line 47
Male nurses and other staff may be asked to shave off beards and facial hair to ensure protective face masks fit properly, according to new national guidance for NHS organisations in England.
But they have also been warned that a blanket ban could “indirectly discriminate” against some staff and have been advised to consult with local faith groups to work out how best to approach the issue.
“Employers should talk with relevant staff and may want to engage with local faith groups”
NHS Employers guidance
Facial hair and the fitting of personal protection equipment (PPE) has become an “emerging issue”, stated the guidance – part of a raft of new advice on staff welfare and workforce issues published by NHS Employers.
“Beards, stubble and facial hair cause a common problem when using PPE face masks, as this can prevent the mask being able to seal to the face and passing the fit test,” said the guidance.
“Employers should talk with relevant staff and may want to engage with local faith groups when agreeing their approach to this issue,” it added.
Some trusts, like University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, have already started advising staff to consider removing facial hair, as previously reported by Nursing Times.
In an email to employees, the trust’s medical director, Derek Sandeman, warned that facial hair “compromises the ability to protect any individual through a mask”.
As the Covid-19 outbreak continues, there will be a significant increase in the numbers of staff who need to wear masks, stated the new guidance from NHS Employers.
It noted that there were alternatives to masks – such as hoods and helmets – which would allow staff to keep beards.
But it said these were more expensive and would require a couple of hours of training “which may mean it is not a feasible solution depending on the circumstances and numbers of staff involved”.
“In the first instance, employers should explain their concerns to those staff required to use PPE and the risks associated with having facial hair and ask staff if they would be willing to be clean shaven to eliminate any risks,” it said.
It may be helpful to include union representatives in these discussions, added the document from NHS Employers, which represents health service trusts and other providers.
Meanwhile, the guidance advises concerned employees to discuss the matter with their manager and suggests they could get support from occupational health to explain their personal concerns and circumstances.
“There are many reasons why an individual may not want to follow this request, which would need to explored,” the guidance stated.
It said trusts should try and look for solutions such as using other forms of PPE or getting people to work in less high-risk areas. It urged trusts to think carefully before asking all staff to shave.
“The request could indirectly discriminate some employees by applying a provision, criterion or practice that may disadvantage those of certain religions and/or faiths when compared to others,” said the guidance.
It recommended that trusts assess the areas where a ban on facial hair may be necessary – such as emergency departments and coronavirus treatment centres – and the numbers potentially affected.
They should consider whether there was a “legitimate business need to insist that employees be clean shaven”, such as preventing the spread of the virus.
“Where this is the case, a local approach should be agreed and implemented consistently, in line with risk assessments,” said the document.