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Miner loses battle over beard

AN Adelaide man has been left in a prickly situation, after losing a battle with BHP Billiton for unfair dismissal when he was shaved from the company for having a beard.

The Fair Work Commission ruled that the mining giant was legally allowed to sack an underground truck driver who refused to shave off a goatee and moustache.

The company have a clean-shave policy for all of its 990 underground workers at the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia.

Fair Work Commissioner Peter Hampton dismissed the unfair dismissal application by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union on behalf of the sacked worker, James Felton, who had been employed by BHP Billiton for about six years.

Mr Felton repeatedly refused to comply with the policy, which was in place so that respiratory masks worn over the face can work at their optimum level and reduce potential exposure to dangerous dusts and chemicals while working underground.

Mr Felton was sacked in early October last year, but not before writing a defiant letter in response to several warnings.

“My facial hair is my personal attribute, it is who I am and my liberty of right,” he wrote in the letter.

During a meeting as part of Mr Felton’s disciplinary action while he was still employed with BHP, he offered to supply at his own cost an Airstream helmet for his own use in the mine, which would have given a better level of protection and allowed him to keep his facial hair.

The Fair Work Commission judgement on April 30, pointed to Australiasian standards about the potential impact of beards on respiratory equipment effectiveness.

“Beards, moustaches and sideburns prevent satisfactory sealing,” the ruling stated.

The statement said Mr Felton had “made a deliberate and well-informed decision not to comply with the policy”.

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