There’s an old adage in the safety world that says, “The best personal protective equipment (PPE) for the job is the PPE that the employees will wear.” After all, it isn’t very useful if it just stays in the package and doesn’t get used.
But how do we get employees to wear the personal protective equipment that we need them to wear in order to be compliant and stay safe on the job? It’s a battle that most employers and safety officers have faced and, for many, an ongoing one; but it needn’t be. There are some simple steps to help with compliance.
1. Let Them Wear the PPE That They Want To Wear
Many companies, in an effort to cut costs, try to narrow down the variety of safety items that they keep on the shelf. Bad idea. While this does initially cut costs and save a lot of space in the safety supply room, closet or cupboard, in the long run it ends up costing more when injuries go up.
A good example is safety glasses. Twenty years ago there weren’t a ton of options in safety glasses: you either wore the square, box-shaped safety glasses that were available or you wore nothing. A lot of employees would rather wear nothing than look “dorky” or “uncool.” Today there are literally thousands of different styles of protective eyewear. The employee who can’t find a style that he likes is just being difficult.
This doesn’t mean that you need to purchase a different pair of safety glasses for each and every employee. Get input from those who are going to have to wear this gear and get them to agree on three or four styles and tints that they like and stock those. There will always be one or two employees who want the latest and most expensive safety glasses on the market. Allow these individuals to purchase their own if they aren’t happy with the selection available—just make sure that the PPE they choose is ANSI-compliant.
2. Get Them the Right PPE for the Job
In many cases, lack of compliance has as much to do with laziness on the part of the safety officer as it does on the stubborn refusal of the employee. Make sure that the PPE that you are purchasing for your employees is comfortable and stylish. If you haven’t shopped around lately you probably aren’t aware of the changes that have sprung up in the world of PPE.
Are your employees using a paint sprayer, for example, and wearing a standard Tyvek coverall? While the coverall might protect them from overspray, they are probably sweating like crazy underneath. Newer offerings on the market have breathable backs that allow air flow where the overspray isn’t a concern. Offer employees a more comfortable option and you’ll find compliance increasing.
3. Get Them the PPE that Actually Looks Good on Them
Let’s face it: today’s world is all about looking good. Image is everything and most of us strive to look as good or “cool” as we reasonably can. There’s nothing more disheartening than having to come to work and wear clothing you can’t stand all day.
Again, the industry has come a long way. For example, where flame-resistant clothing used to be bulky and ugly, new materials and technology have enabled garment manufacturers to produce clothing that fits well and looks good on employees. Often today’s flame-resistant clothing looks no different than the non-flame-resistant version.
4. Make Sure They Understand Why They Need the PPE
As a safety professional, I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard an employee say something to the effect of “Wow! I have no idea why …” when talking about a health or safety issue. Handing a worker a pair of safety glasses and a set of earmuffs without first getting him to understand why they are needed is simply counterproductive. As soon as this worker gets sweaty and uncomfortable he is going to take off the PPE and an accident is going to occur.
Shocking and graphic as some accident images might be, when most of us see what can actually happen when PPE is not worn we will do what we can on our part to protect ourselves.
5. Make Sure They Understand That It Isn’t Optional
No matter how far you go out of your way, no matter how much money you spend and no matter how much you educate your colleagues, there are always going to be some employees who won’t be wearing the necessary PPE when you walk by. Whether it’s through forgetfulness or sheer stubbornness, they need to understand that PPE is mandatory and that there will be consequences if they do not wear it. Remind them, warn them, write them up and, finally, send them home without pay—but don’t allow them to get away with it. Inevitably, if one goes without, others will start to think that they can as well. No one likes to be a dictator but non-compliance cannot be allowed. Make sure that it is in the employment contract when new hires sign it and make it clear what the ramifications are if compliance is not met.
6. Set the Right Example
In the safety world “Do as I say, not as I do!” is just not acceptable. If the environment that employees are working in necessitates earplugs, then make sure you’re wearing earplugs when you’re in that environment with them. If hard hats are required, make sure that you are wearing a hard hat. Safety starts with you. If your colleagues see you walking around without the proper gear, they aren’t going to buy into the safety culture that you are trying to build.
While 100-percent compliance might seem like an unattainable goal, it isn’t. When employees clearly know the consequences, when they are offered choices, when they understand why it is necessary and when new advances in PPE are readily incorporated into the workplace, workers will wear protective apparel. Accidents will happen, but they don’t have to be a result of workers not wearing their PPE and that PPE ultimately might save a life.
About the Author
Rob Vajko is in charge of marketing for National Safety Inc. His safety blog, which is updated daily, can be found at nationalsafety.wordpress.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.