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Why won’t they wear their hairnets properly?

Posted by Simon, in Food Safety 10 October 2013 · 13,631 views

Because it’s complicated.

Well we could stop there, but let’s try and take a serious look.

In management circles “Culture” is an often mentioned word, but it’s not easy to put a finger on what exactly it is. As an auditor I can walk into a factory and determine within a few short minutes whether it has a good, bad or an ugly culture? You can see it, hear it and sometimes even smell it. But what makes it? And importantly how do we develop a great organizational culture. A culture that appears to really care about food safety and quality.

Let’s start with a definition of organizational “culture”:

Culture has been divided into what an organisation ‘is’ (values, attitudes and beliefs of the people in it) and what it ‘has’ (procedures, policies and activities). “Reason’s research (1998) explained that these guided and directed an organisation to achieve its values,”

Values, attitudes and beliefs are shaped by senior management, by what they say and more importantly what they do...and the time, effort and resources they invest in any particular subject. This more than anything else clearly demonstrates to employees what’s important and what matters and shapes their behaviour in either a positive, negative or neutral way.

In a balanced business sales, growth, efficiency, cost, profit, employee safety, food safety and quality would all be equal partners and would all have equal focus and attention from senior management.

If it doesn't matter to the big boss then it doesn't matter. No matter what anyone says; what is done or threatened, what is written in a procedure or policy, whether the auditor is coming. Yes you may get short term compliance by waving a stick, but it won’t be the way things are done around here.

In terms of food safety & quality hopefully the big boss is showing commitment by providing the necessary resources, direction and support to build and operate effective systems, policies and procedures and perhaps even shows an interest in the performance and improvement of the food safety & quality management system by hosting or attending management reviews, HACCP reviews and the odd quality meeting. Great!

However this is not enough; all of the $$$ and all of the good work can be undone if the head honcho regularly waltzes through production with his locks a flowing and all blinged up like Mr T. What message does this send out? After all employees must wear this uncomfortable gear for 8-12 hours every day.

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Senior managers do walk a constant and narrow tightrope and employees watch their every move like hawks, waiting for any transgression, however small. Senior management would be well advised to really understand and follow the lower level policies related to personal hygiene at all times. On the face of it such a small thing, but it matters as much, if not more than all of the other stuff they do that employees rarely see.

Not exactly the blueprint on how to develop a great organizational culture, there’s far more to it than this, but it’s a start and it may just help to get employees wearing their hairnets properly. Even when you’re not looking.

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If wearing of hairnets is considered to be "complicated" .... what does everyone think about the wearing of "beard snoods?


As a bearded wonder, I think wearing a beard snood is many times more complicated than a hair net! Over the nose, under the nose ......


Then of course there is the ultimate challenge, for some, of wearing both a hairnet and a beard snood!

It is interesting what a small but important marker this can be.  I have walked into many a plant and you can tell a lot by hairnets.  Went into a plant once, where most of the people did not have hairnets on even close to correct, hair hanging out everywhere. A little more investigation, staff had false nails, nail polish and the list goes on.  While they cared about the product they made, not enough to follow basic GMP and it showed in almost every aspect of the audit. 

I applaud you Simon for this post, on the US side, this has more often than not been the fundamental issue with food safety and quality (less to do with just hair nets and snoods). The root cause (as I saw it) with Peanut Corporation of America (testing positive for salmonella until they "passed" with a negative) was a bad culture.


The thing that is often a culture shock to companies over here with the GFSI benchmarks (that other old audit "check list" standards do not have) is often the "Senior Management Commitment" portion... and after a while they often just "give in" and provide the evidence... or just end up burning out the QA personnel. 




Even if they DO ware the hairnets on the production floor... most of the time they just buy the cheap plastic uncomfortable hairnets, not the nice soft ones for 2 cents more/dozen. Can you smell the culture? I have, and often it is bad. What ARE the code of values that "guide and direct an organization to achieve its values"? What are the barometers to measure a company's culture?


This is not a new question in management.



Design of hairnet is also important. Used to observe factories provided black hairnets that made of thin strings with large holes (similar to nets used in hair-salon). Most workers with dark hairs (black or dark brown). They said it can make workers feel more comfortable to wear.
However, it is hardly seen whether the workers wore hairnet or not and many times this kind of hairnet cannot properly hold hairs (especially short and layer hair styles).

Size of hairnet is also important. Use to experience a factory with very tight hairnet, resulting headache after wearing this hairnet for a while.


In our food safety program, the reason for wearing hairnets is to promote culture, more than food safety reasons itself. Because of our operation and more important the product that we pack, the use of hairnets is not really critical for food safety (I understand it is in some or most food operations), but we still mandate its use because the impact it makes in the culture. It sends the message that we care.


With that said, this constantly back-fire to me when other people, like SALES comes in to production area to check the product without hairnet, or even worst MANAGEMENT walks in as if the rules don’t apply to them… As I tell them (with ironi of course) .. Don’t worry, managers are bacteria-free….!! 


Bottom line, this is the worst thing it can happen,,, again no for the safety of the product, but for the food safety culture… Managers are telling the employees,,, “why you have to care, if I don’t”

'As an auditor I can walk into a factory and determine within a few short minutes whether it has a good, bad or an ugly culture'


As an auditor I can tell from the opening meeting and how many people they have sent in to try and 'manage me and the audit' !

Thanks for your comments.

Snoods are more difficult in terms of when to wear it and how to wear it - at what length of beard/moustache is it required?


Two day’s growth is a standard that I’ve heard, but then everyone is different, it takes me a week to grow what a real man can grow in a morning.  I find if you make the standard clean shaven and management use common sense then anything other than a five o’clock shadow requires a snood.  To be honest I don’t know if it actually specifies a time or hair length in any standards or guidance documents; I could be wrong???

Of course snoods and hairnets should be of adequate quality, so that they work as desired and are as comfortable as possible and again that’s about provision of resources and management commitment.


Antores post get’s me thinking. 

If food safety is really all about risk management (and it is isn’t it?) then why does the head honcho who walks along a designated walkway nowhere near production or product and does not touch anything need to wear a hairnet.  If we look at it logically (risk assessment) he surely does not as there is no possibility of him/her causing hair contamination.  Unless we include a subjective part to our risk assessment related to negative impact on culture. 


Can we be tough enough to stand up to employees and talk sensibly about risk and the justification of our policies and procedures or must we make blanket rules to appease them because it is easier?


Prince Charles or not, if he was in my factory, he'd have a hairnet on and all his buttons done up.

The blonde in the back wouldn't have made it into the building! and if corporate lunches mean you cant do your coat up.....

Mind you, he's probably worrying if that's a corgi on the conveyor belt. Not much productivity going on otherwise.

Caz x

I'm glad you commented on the photo Caz, it was intended to be a spot the hazards.  Yes the lady in the background with the hair and the happy guy who looks like his mother dressed him and perhaps has had one too many sherberts at lunchtime...must be the big boss. :smile:

Simon thank you for your post. In our personnel GMP's we have handled the beard length quandary by stating "beard nets must be worn if employee is unshaven to the point that facial hair can be pulled" this has worked fairly well for us, there are of course some employees who push the limits, it has been easy enough to ask the employee to see if they can pull the hair in question, some still try to appear not to be able to pull the hair, but it becomes readily obvious to all concerned when an attempt is made whether or not the hair is too long.



James, I always say if *I* could pull the hair.

I have never done it, but the inplied threat of someone else maybe pulling a beard hair has gotten them to wear beard nets.
I just rub my face up against theirs...if it's bristly, they wear a snood, and it lightens the situation!

Haha, Somehow I think if I were to rub my face against theirs fists would quickly become involved

I have special "attributes" which lets me get away with it!

Though not in the same league as Caz "Betty" ncymru...yes, this! :)

And I have Merida-like hair Brave (although NOT AS LONG) so I always say if I can get this in a hair net, you sure can!

I'll tell you how complicated beard snoods can be. When do you wear them? little growth, a day's growth , 48hrs growth, tiny hair, 1 inch ......  how about eye brows ..... complicated hey? 

snood beard are really inconfortable, we are been offered balaclava 
confortable to wear but nearly end of the shift pulling them up and used as hairnets

I have the same problems here with this issue.  I am constantly having to remind staff and management about outing it on or wearing it properly.  It seems like a never ending battle.

you have to wear hairnets in the food indusrty, get over it lol

I think it about changing people's mind-set to ensure they comply by coaching, helping etc,  If that does not work then its about changing people by performance management etc.