But Do They Wear It?

Survey finds employees often neglect personal protective equipment they need for their safety

Nearly all safety professionals in a survey released back in August said that workers in their organizations had at some point failed to wear the necessary safety equipment while on the job.

Ninety-eight percent of respondents who attended the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) 2010 conference in Baltimore answered “yes” when asked if they had observed workers not wearing safety equipment when they should have been, according to the survey, conducted by Kimberly-Clark Professional.

Thirty percent of respondents said this had happened on numerous occasions. Therefore, it’s not surprising that all survey respondents said worker compliance with personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols was the top workplace safety issue.

What about you?

Survey results like this should give pause to any business owner whose people work in the field on jobs that may require hand, face, eye, head, foot, hearing or other personal protection.

Have you looked around your job sites to see whether your people are wearing PPE consistently, and whether your supervisors are enforcing the PPE policies you have? If not, perhaps the time is right. After all, the use of PPE is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to prevent on-the-job injuries.

Or, to put it another way, wouldn’t it be tragic to say one of your people could have been spared a brain injury, loss of vision, or some other calamity, if only he or she had used the PPE your company supplied and required?

The survey findings just mentioned are in keeping with results from surveys of safety professionals conducted by Kimberly-Clark Professional at the National Safety Council (NSC) Congress. Those surveys also found high levels of noncompliance with PPE protocols – 89 percent in 2008, 87 percent in 2007 and 85 percent in 2006.

Disturbing trend

“Increasingly high noncompliance with PPE protocols is an alarming trend and a serious threat to worker health and safety,” said Gina Tsiropoulos, manufacturing segment marketing manager for Kimberly-Clark Professional.

“Whether this is a result of economic conditions, a flawed approach to safety programs, younger workers who are more inclined to take greater risks, or some other reason, it’s essential that workers wear PPE when it is required. PPE protects workers against injury, but it will not work if workers fail to use it and use it properly.”

Three-quarters of survey respondents chose workplace accidents and injuries in response to the question: “What is most likely to keep you up at night?” Potential liability exposure because of noncompliance with PPE protocols was second, at 13 percent, while fear of a global pandemic and its impact on the workforce was a distant third at 8 percent.

Eyes have it

When it comes to PPE compliance, eye protection was found to be the “most challenging” category, according to 42 percent of respondents. OSHA statistics show that nearly three out of five workers who suffered eye injuries were found not to be wearing eye protection at the time of the accident or were wearing the wrong kind of eye protection for the job.

About 2,000 U.S. workers each day have job-related eye injuries that require medical treatment, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. And thousands are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries that could have been prevented, according to OSHA.

The next highest category for noncompliance was hearing protection, followed by gloves and head protection. While the reasons reported for PPE noncompliance were varied, the biggest complaint was that the equipment is “uncomfortable,” followed by “too hot,” “not available near the work task,” “poor fit,” and “unattractive looking.”

When asked what they had done or intended to do to improve compliance, safety professionals’ top choice was to improve existing education and training programs. Other measures included increased monitoring of employees, purchasing more comfortable or stylish PPE, tying compliance to individual performance evaluations, and developing incentive programs to encourage compliance.

PPE of the future?

When safety professionals were asked about their visions for the future of PPE, fit, comfort and style took precedence. Forty-two percent said they would like PPE that automatically adjusts to fit different bodies. Next was PPE with customizable style and design options, so that workers could select PPE based on their own tastes and safety requirements (32 percent). This was followed by PPE designed with integrated climate-control features, providing cooling or warmth as needed (15 percent).

When asked if customizable or individualized style and design options would help increase PPE compliance, 87 percent of respondents said that it would.

Service contractors, of course, live in the here and now. The challenge for your business is to get workers to use the PPE they have properly and consistently. Some effort invested toward more compliance may help prevent an injury today, or tomorrow – so that you and your people are not in the position of having to say, “if only...”


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