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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Accommodating fashion statements

Here we go again.

From today's National Post. First, the headlines: "Sikhs fight sawmill hard hat policy/Turbans 'Sacred;' Sidelined workers file human rights complaint." And the quote: "This turban is pretty sacred to us."

Repeat after me: The five symbols of Sikh faith are a comb, a steel bangle, a kirpan (a sword or knife), special undergarments, and--of special note--uncut hair, not a turban.

Posted by Terry O'Neill on April 1, 2008 in Religion | Permalink


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I don't see a problem here. Just have some super giant sized hard hats make that will fit over top of a turban. They will look funny, but at least they will be 'safe'.

I don't know what's sillier, the obsession with safety or the refusal to take off a turban.

This is the never-ending struggle that multicultural policy brings and will be never-ending and that wastes time an money.

I would go the expedient route let them wear their turbans. Who cares, really?

Posted by: John West | 2008-04-01 9:46:58 AM

Is safety the new religion? Let Sikhs make their own decisions about hard hats and helmets.


Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-04-01 10:02:28 AM

First, just as with mandatory helmet laws, mandatory hard hat laws are an infringement on the freedom of individuals to choose whether or not they want to wear them. So for that reason alone, it is reasonable to support the Sikh objection.

Second, I am no expert on Sikhism, but I think you have the not accurately represented the significance of the turban, Terry. Wikipedia (which NEVER lies!) tells us:

"The Five Ks, or panj kakaar/kakke, are five items of faith that baptised Khalsa Sikhs wear at all times at the command of the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh who so ordered at the Baisakhi Amrit Sanchar in 1699."

"A Dastaar is a turban worn to protect the Kesh (unshorn hair) and guard the Dasam Duaar (the Tenth Gate), a spiritual opening at the top of the head. The turban is a spiritual crown, which is a constant reminder to the Sikh that he or she is sitting on the throne of consciousness and is committed to living according to Sikh principles. It is the identity of a Sikh. Guru Gobind Singh jee told His Sikhs: 'Khaalsa mero roop hai kaas. Khaalsa mai ho karo nivaas... The Khalsa is my image. Within the Khalsa I reside.' Wearing a turban declares sovereignty, dedication, self-respect, courage and piety......."


How ironic that the turban is supposed to symbolize "guarding" the top of the head, yet Sikhs resist a hard hat or helmet that does that in more than just a symbolic way.

If choosing not to wear a hard hat or a motorcycle helmet results in having to pay higher insurance rates, then Sikhs have to make a choice. But I see no reason any adult should be REQUIRED to wear such protection, whether the reason they don't want to is religious or just for no good reason at all.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-04-01 10:05:32 AM

An upside down church is a fashion statement -- but a turban is a religious statement. (That upside down church is clearly offensive to Christians and should not have been financed with government money.)

Furthermore, the cross is a fashion statement. How cavalier would we be if, for instance, the cross was banned in public schools?

Let’s not turn safety into a religion that trumps the meaningful religious freedoms of Sikhs.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-04-01 10:23:46 AM

Loose clothing around many rapidly rotating shafts and other equipment. Turbans aren't called pull start units for no good reason. Assuming those individuals choose to accept the increased risk to themselves, how do their employers skirt WCB laws, unions fighting to disallow discriminatory LTD coverage, ambulance chasers etc. Freedom versus the Nanny state and its implications? Possibly.

Meanwhile, the level of free choice should step back one notch and involve choosing work under the employers rules or finding work elsewhere. When the only property (capital) you bring to the workplace is your lunch bucket you are hardly in a position to be calling the shots.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2008-04-01 10:50:19 AM

>"Let’s not turn safety into a religion that trumps the meaningful religious freedoms of Sikhs."
Matthew Johnston | 1-Apr-08 10:23:46 AM

This reads like you want to throttle a new emerging religion while it's still in the cradle, Matthew.

How many Sikhs are there?
Not many.
How many people want to be safe?
Nearly everyone.

Safety has a much right to religious status in Canada, where universal health care is a religion, as Sikhism and as much meaning.

The thing is, with universal health care part of Canadian culture, safety is a tenet of universal health care.

The government shouldn't be promoting a religion or regulating against it, but regulating against certain dangerous aspects of culture, such as female genital mutilation, is not only fair game but in the interest of the commons.

Turbans aren't part of the Sikh religion, they are part of the Sikh culture.

We in the West are just beginning to differentiate between culture and religion.

Let's not blur the line between the two.

I'm all for people living their own culture, if multiculturalism has to be retained in Canada, but let's not conflate culture with tenets of religious faith.

Posted by: Speller | 2008-04-01 11:05:22 AM

Sikhs began infiltrating mills in BC and AB in the 80's. I lived in Grande Prairie back then, and their attempt to control the Proctor and Gamle mill failed. Down the road in Prince George, one of the pulp mills was taken over by Sikhs. Once they get into a few key supervisor positions they start to purge all no-Sikhs through intimidation.

I suspect this latest incident is just a tactic to try and get rid of some non-Sikh supervisors. Most of the Sikhs I new didn't wear turbans, especially at work in a hot stinky mill. The plan has always been to keep the pressure on non-Sikhs in hope that they'll throw in the towel and a position will open up for another Sikh worker.

Anyone who works anywhere other than over a keyboard knows the safety industry is bigger than the environmental industry in Alberta. It's probably the main reason that oil companies feel the royalties should remain low. They already pay a huge premium directly to environment and safety companies that don't exist anywhere else. It costs at least $5000 just to get a new employee up to speed with safety courses before his training even starts. Safety equipment for even a truck driver is at least another $1000.

I suppose it might actually be good for business if safety regulations are relaxed for Sikhs. If my employees were exempt from all these rules on religious grounds, I'd consider hiring a bunch of Sikhs. When some safety auditor shows up and asks to see all their documentation, they can show him a ceremonial dagger and tell him to take a hike.

Posted by: dp | 2008-04-01 11:07:32 AM

I'm plenty religious but one of the few times I've had to wear a hard hat on an industrial site I learned the absolute necessity of this minimal accomodation to reality.

It seems these folks are "free" to not work there.

Posted by: Conrad-USA | 2008-04-01 11:18:58 AM

M.J. asks if safety is the new religion and the answer is affirmative or perhaps one of its denominations.

The double standard here stinks just as in the helmet exemption, no doubt about it. Still I find it much more concerning that people just continue accepting the passing of these laws, which continue to remove all personal responsibility along with our freedom, and only wake up when they are challenged by a minority group.

Posted by: Alain | 2008-04-01 11:23:45 AM

John C- "Rapidly rotating equipment". Those three words make the hair on my neck stand up.

When I was 18 my co-worker got his hair caught in the grease on a diamond drill stem. Picture this- two 18 year olds on night shift, in the bush, no phone, no first aid equipment. Times have changed for the better, so why turn back the clock to accomodate someone's fashion statement? I have a 19 year old who has all the new safety regulations protecting him, and I still worry about him.

Posted by: dp | 2008-04-01 11:32:09 AM

I am so pleased that no one has used the old 'burden on the health care system' argument for safety repression.

Let freedom reign.

Take away the helmet law and I will buy a motorcycle.

Posted by: John West | 2008-04-01 11:40:26 AM

Did you sell your motorcycle, John?

Posted by: Speller | 2008-04-01 11:43:34 AM

Since these lumber companies are private they should, of course, have the right to set their own standards for safety -- and even to discriminate on religious grounds. It's just sad to see this trend, especially when government is the force behind the scenes for much of this nonsense.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-04-01 12:26:00 PM

Yes I sold it. I got tired of helmet head. :0)

Posted by: John West | 2008-04-01 12:38:18 PM

>"It's just sad to see this trend, especially when government is the force behind the scenes for much of this nonsense.
Matthew Johnston | 1-Apr-08 12:26:00 PM

I once worked for a non-union factory in Calgary where the factory floor manager would get a bonus if there were no man hours lost due to injury on the floor.

The factory ran three rotating shifts 24/7 being down only from midnight Saturday to 7:00 AM Sunday morning when the machinery would then be restarted.

The safety record was proudly displayed on a large chart stating how many hours and days it had been since the last down-time injury.

Once a floor worker stepped on a nail which was protruding from a crate.
The nail went right through his foot.

The floor worker still came in and sat around the manager's office for the next 2 weeks so that the Safety Chart could continue to read no downtime man hours lost.

Posted by: Speller | 2008-04-01 12:38:35 PM

You're kidding, right? Private companies setting there own safety standards? You've obviously never worked in any sort of construction or oilfield job. If those companies could save a couple of bucks per employee they'd have people mopping up PCB's with running shoes on.

Wait a minute. They do that already. A friend of mine work at the P&G mill in Grande Prairie in the 80's. A bunch of old tranformers spilled oil in a storage facility, and they had to mop it up and pour it into the sewer. Straight into the Wapiti River. Don't encourage them any more. If you want to live in that sort of environment, move to India.

Posted by: dp | 2008-04-01 12:49:45 PM

I didn't say a private company has the right to pollute. I said they have, or should have, the right to demand that employees wear hardhats.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-04-01 12:56:56 PM

>Yes I sold it. I got tired of helmet head. :0)
John West | 1-Apr-08 12:38:18 PM

That's too bad.

I know you used to really like riding on pleasant days out there on the Island to shed stress and get a new take on things.

Posted by: Speller | 2008-04-01 1:01:18 PM

Sorry MJ. I sort of misinterpreted your post. I realize you were on the side of higher standards, not the opposite.

The accepted procedure in the oilpatch now is to default to the higher standard when a contractor is hired to do a job. This has the effect of ratcheting up eveyones standards. One of the problems I've encountered is that when you cast a huge net, you catch too many small fish. Forcing a worker to wear hot, uncomfortable safety equipment when it isn't required for a specific job can cause resentment. We're seeing the effect of this resentment show up in some of these posts.

A few years ago there was a hardhat designed in the shape of a cowboy hat. They showed up on a few supervisors even though they weren't designed to give any real protection. Maybe the guys who were so exited about designing a turban-friendly motorcycle helmet can have a look at this market. It probably has more potential that the recreational market.

Posted by: dp | 2008-04-01 1:13:42 PM

"Since these lumber companies are private they should, of course, have the right to set their own standards for safety -- and even to discriminate on religious grounds."

If freedom of association had any validity in the Charter, they should have the right not to hire Sikhs, period.

"If you want to live in that sort of environment, move to India.'

No need. India's moving here. Didn't you get the memo? ;)

Posted by: DJ | 2008-04-01 1:25:32 PM

"If you want to live in that sort of environment, move to India.'

"No need. India's moving here. Didn't you get the memo? ;)"


...While our jobs are going to India.

All this makes a lot of sense.

Posted by: Marc | 2008-04-01 2:22:27 PM

There's no reason whatsoever to cave in to these guys. They have absolute freedom of religion, freedom to practice and live their religion without anyone harassing them for it. They have the freedom to wear turbans if they so choose. They also have the right to go and find other jobs if they don't like the rules.

There are lots of people who find certain aspects of their jobs to be less than appealing (hours, wages, whatever). They go out, look on workopolis or whatever, and find a job that suits. Like the airport worker in Toronto who didn't like having to wear a skirt she considered too short ( a muslim, of course) people like this have to realize they don't get to break the rules to suit their personal agendas.

Posted by: sailorstakewarning | 2008-04-02 5:35:36 PM

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