Each year, countless accidents, injuries, and fatalities occur as a result of missing personal protective equipment (PPE) or the failure to properly wear the provided PPE. PPE minimizes exposure to biological, chemical, physical, safety, and ergonomic hazards, and it is the last line of defense between a workplace hazard and the worker. As important as PPE is, however, there are many reasons employees may disregard it.
PPE General Requirements
Employers are required to assess the workplace to evaluate jobs, processes, activities, or equipment and identify all associated hazards. With few exceptions, it is the employer’s responsibility to provide any required PPE at no cost to the worker when other hazard control methods (e.g., substitution, engineering controls, or administrative controls) do not provide sufficient protection or are otherwise not feasible.
After conducting the hazard assessment, purchasing the equipment, and training the workers, organizations can’t guarantee employees will always wear their PPE, and it’s only a matter of time until this leads to an injury. Workers who skip out on PPE or use it incorrectly put not only themselves but also those working around them at risk.
Why It’s Important
Even something as simple as workers resting their safety glasses on their head for a brief moment can have devastating results. Meeting compliance obligations and encouraging workers to wear protective equipment are about more than saving money or following rules—they can save lives and prevent lifelong repercussions for the employee.
It isn’t outrageously expensive to create and maintain a PPE program, but noncompliance can be. Noncompliance could result in a higher number of injuries and/or a greater severity of injuries. If the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finds your facility to be in violation of any applicable PPE standards, it could result in a hefty fine ranging from $13,260 to $132,598. As an employer, you’d have to shell out for workers’ compensation costs and insurance premiums while dealing with a loss of productivity.
Tips for Improving Compliance
According to the PPE survey published last year by the EHS Daily Advisor research team, nearly 70% of survey takers were concerned about their employees’ comfort while wearing PPE and the likelihood of workforce adoption. Taking simple steps to improve your PPE program can have a major impact on your bottom line.
- Focus on comfort. A top reason employees forgo PPE is the equipment is uncomfortable to wear. Employers need to ensure the equipment they select is both appropriate for the hazard and accommodating to the wearer. Consider the needs of every employee when choosing sizing options—many PPE manufacturers, for instance, now offer garments fitted to be more comfortable for women. As for materials, you want something that will not restrict workers’ movement; think about weather, moisture management, breathability, flexible materials, itchy or rough materials, or other common comfort factors.
- Involve workers. Although the jobsite is not a runway, employees who are given ugly PPE may actually choose not to wear it. During the selection process, discuss brands, colors, or styles that employees might prefer. One way to ensure comfort is to work with a PPE manufacturer and have employees wear different types of PPE while on the job to conduct wear trials. Were the garments itchy or rough? Did the employee find it more difficult to complete the job? Was the material breathable? Use these answers during the selection process to get your PPE program off on the right foot.
- Step up your administrative and work practice controls. According to the PPE report, more than half of respondents said that workers generally wear PPE when required—but sometimes need to be reminded. Increase safety awareness by using visual cues to remind workers where to don and doff PPE and the types of PPE required. PPE signs and labels are active reminders of the company’s safety expectations for its workers.
- Investigate incidents. Injuries and near misses should always be investigated to identify the underlying issue, and the root cause may be PPE-related. Let’s say a worker’s hand is injured while operating machinery. A safety manager assumes that the injury was caused because the worker was acting carelessly and holds a training session. However, a different employee suffers the same injury the next month. If an investigation were initially conducted, the safety manager would have uncovered the real reason the first worker was injured: The worker wasn’t wearing gloves because the gloves supplied were too small. This is an easy fix and will prevent future incidents from occurring.
- Conduct proper training. OSHA requires employers to train workers on how to use PPE properly, when PPE is necessary, and the limitations of PPE. The goal of this training is to help employees understand why PPE is needed in their job and for them to recognize the individual control they have over their own safety. In order to make it as effective as possible, however, consider how you offer it—provide paid time off for workers to attend training, hold training and offer overtime pay, or offer recognition for completing PPE training.
- Make it convenient. PPE must be accessible at all times and relatively easy to use. If it takes too long to retrieve equipment or if it’s too awkward or cumbersome for workers to put on, they may choose to skip the PPE altogether. It’s also employees’ responsibility to clean and maintain PPE—the easier the PPE is to care for, the more likely it will be properly taken care of.
- Improve the culture. Revise and revamp the safety culture of your workplace to encourage workers to ask questions about their equipment. When they feel comfortable reporting issues or discussing PPE, they’re less likely to become complacent against workplace hazards. Improving the culture can be as simple as increasing management support, holding focused training sessions, and gathering feedback from employees.
Encouraging employees to wear PPE is an important element of any PPE program. PPE is often the last line of defense that may prevent workers from suffering serious injuries and accidents, but there are many situations in which workers refuse to don equipment properly. By ensuring comfort, getting feedback, and thoroughly investigating incidents, you can establish a safety program at your facility that emphasizes proper PPE compliance, as well as personal responsibility for safety.
|Jesse Allred is a writer for Creative Safety Supply, a provider of visual safety and lean manufacturing resources. She enjoys sharing information and advice for facilities to achieve efficiency and keep employees safe. For more information, visit creativesafetysupply.com.|