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Compliance Cultivation

Posted on September 08 2015

Compliance Cultivation

Get Workers To Wear PPE Properly


If you are struggling to get workers to wear proper Personal Protective Equipment(PPE), you are not alone.  According to recent survey of 1,000 safety professionals by safety training firm Safestart, (1) the second leading cause of workplace injuries is the result of employees’ failure to wear PPE.

According to a Kimberly-Clark Professional survey, 82 percent of safety professionals said they had observed workers in their organizations failing to wear required PPE.  Conversely, 62 percent of employees surveyed by Kimberly Clark said they don’t wear PPE because it’s uncomfortable. Other reasons included that PPE was not necessary, too hot, or unattractive.(2)

Training and creating a safety culture are important for compliance, but they can be undermined by PPE that is too hot, restrictive, stiff, poor fitting, or simply doesn’t look good.

OSHA also confirms that comfort and safety go hand in hand.  According to OSHA 3151-12R – Personal Protective Equipment, Selecting PPE, “Employers should take the fit and comfort of PPE into consideration when selecting appropriate items for their workplace. PPE that fits well and is comfortable to wear will encourage employee use of PPE… If PPE does not fit properly, it can make the difference between being safely covered or dangerously exposed. It may not provide the level of protection desired and may discourage employee use.” (3)

Some employers may be reluctant to invest in comfortable PPE because they have a perception it is too expensive.  But, lack of compliance does more than endanger workers’ lives.  The ROI for comfortable PPE can be found by avoiding OSHA fines, keeping insurance rates down, avoiding law suits being filed, and preventing lost man hours. Better fitting, better designed safety clothing also tends to last longer since less stress is placed on a garment that isn’t too tight.

“Companies are acknowledging the long-term benefits of protecting employees with high-quality PPE,” said Frost & Sullivan Chemicals, Materials and Food Research Analyst Shray Sharma. “In addition to increased comfort, higher worker productivity and regulatory compliance, PPE reduces workplace-related injuries that can otherwise be damaging in terms of liability costs, insurance premiums, lost productivity and negative publicity.” (4)

Comfort Cultivates Compliance

Warmer summer months working outdoors in the hot sun or high humidity are often when workers are the least compliant – especially for high visibility PPE.  Safety vests are one solution, but they do have some loss of high visibility if the vest is dirty or not closed properly.

As an alternative, high visibility t-shirts don’t have to be fastened, fit close to the body, and offer more freedom of movement. A t-shirt stays on – it is not an add-on put over other clothing.  It is also one less layer of clothing to contend with on a hot day. High performance, moisture management materials have been adapted from the sportswear market for use in high visibility work wear, which allows workers to stay cooler and more comfortable.

Flame-resistant clothing is another area where comfort is critical to ensure workers stay protected.  If workers roll up their sleeves or open up their flame resistant shirts or jackets, they are reducing the protection the garment is designed to provide.  Today comfortable flame-resistant fabrics that are cooler, stretch easily, breathe, and designed for eight hour work day increase compliance.

Safety boots reduce injuries – but only if workers wear them.  According to a study by Massachusetts General Hospital, feet enclosed in regular boots had more than twice the number of metatarsal injuries than those wearing protective boots.  (5) Many workers complain safety boots cramp their toes and hurt their feet. But, those boots don’t have to be uncomfortable. Polyurethane insoles absorb moisture and reduce shock. Boots with better support reduce injuries and increase wearability. New composite materials are lighter, more flexible and keep boots comfortable even in tough work environments.

These are just a few examples where PPE product design innovations focused on comfort also increase worker safety.  Workers that require PPE often work in uncomfortable environments that require safety gear – out in the rain, inside a hot manufacturing plant, tight spots in underground facilities, or handling toxic materials.  Comfortable clothing does more than increase the likelihood they will wear it and protect themselves. It also enables them to focus on performing dangerous jobs safely without the distraction of being uncomfortable.

One of the most effective ways to help ensure compliance is to get workers actively involved in the selection process.  Some work places will select a group of employees to test samples of PPE clothing before distributing them to everyone. Not only is their feedback valuable, but getting them involved in choosing what they wear gets them to “buy into” wearing PPE consistently on the job.

When it comes to tough work environments requiring PPE, comfort is not a luxury – it’s a necessity for safety.

Originally published in Facility Safety Management Magazine, September 2015

Written by Brian Nutt, Senior Product Manager for Tingley Rubber Corp. and a member of the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) High Visibility Products Group.

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