Every safety program has the opportunity and responsibility to review selection, use, policy, and follow-up and to make those changes needed right now.
Send the Protection Message Loud and Clear!
Few of us can imagine losing our
hearing or vision, or the physical
recovery from facial damage from an
injury and the hardships this loss would
cause to the injured or his/her family and
relationships—from time, bills, and potential
lost earnings alone. Yet these injuries
are very common at the workplace and
sometimes are shrugged off as the cost of
getting the job done by employees and
supervisors alike. What can we as safety
leaders do to help drive home the message
of always wearing appropriate PPE? And
how can we keep our efforts on the front
burner with upper management?
At the very core of your safety program
is basic use of personal protective equipment
for the head: head and face protection,
vision protection, and hearing protection.
Today’s selections and availability are
unlimited, with super-fast delivery and
bare-bones pricing. All of these basic program
initiatives are completely affordable
to all companies, ranging from the shirtpocket
contractor with one employee to
the high-end, ultra-big corporation. All are
easy to audit (by someone who’s qualified)
because most of the PPE is clearly identifiable
and usually brightly colored. (My
advice: Order it brightly colored!)
Our job sites have noise that can cause
hearing loss and impact/splash and related
situations that can cause lasting vision and
facial injury that, in turn, costs big bucks in
the long term for the employee and the
company. They are preventable injuries, if
only the employee had been wearing
appropriate PPE at the time. We all know
you cannot run a successful safety program
only on hindsight. The bad news is that
you are teaching prevention, which is
tough to do unless armed with real-time
examples of other injuries.
When preventing occupational
injuries, planning in
advance of the injury is critical.
There is no way to “go
back” and protect the
employee from a metal filing
in his eye, for example. Failed
prevention efforts move
instantly into treatment and
Consider the cost of your
company’s most recent accident/
worker’s comp claim
resulting from either hearing
impairment or eye/face
injuries. When I spoke with
one plant manager, he said
what they’d paid because of an
eye injury would have purchased
eye and face protection
for all of his employees for 10
years, due to the costs of
injury, medical treatment,
time off work, extra pay for
others to pick up the workload,
cost of temp help, material
damage, reduced production, etc. Add
to this the potential visit from an OSHA
Compliance Officer and the potential for
fines. “Such expenses make the basic cost of
PPE suddenly pretty agreeable!”
Words of Wisdom
When speaking about basic PPE, ask yourself
and your employees this: “What is the
hazard, and what is needed to protect each
worker?” Make a list and update it often as
hazards change. As a safety professional,
you will have to be a combination of leader
and a jockey wielding a whip, at times, to
get the safety message across to the masses.
You lead by your dedication, example,
training, and awareness. Your whip is
responsibility for task assessment, your
documentation, supervisory accountability,
and employee responsibility to use the correct
PPE each and every time it is needed.
It is a stressful balancing act—but it is a
large part of what safety does so well.
With OSHA’s new PPE payment standard
having taken effect Feb. 13, 2008,
every safety program has the opportunity
and responsibility to review selection, use,
policy, and follow-up and to make those
changes needed right now. Is it easy to do?
Yes and no. Depending on the complexity of your operation and the location of your
employees (at one job site or in many
remote areas?), you will have to depend on
input from others and also their personal
desire to work safely. This will work well if
there is a trust and comfort level with you
and your employees. In other cases (we call
this fence-mending) what may be necessary
is rebuilding that trust and the belief that
safety is serving the employee as much as
the corporate structure.
PPE is no less important than any tool
to get a job done; your approach can mean
the difference in employees (and managers)
taking the program seriously or shrugging
and seeing it as a corporate blister—
annoying but not lethal. When purchasing,
start small and basic, and then keep adding
and upgrading until you are at the level you
need. All extra features are not required,
but those same extra features can enhance
employees’ acceptance and comfort.
Rescue Your Program
If your PPE program is ineffective or
sliding toward obscurity, here are a few
items to breathe life back into it:
• A new approach—use what works. If
you have better response from employees
with handouts or quick break time meetings,
use them. If the best approach is
incentives, such as raffles for new styles or
providing new equipment all at once to a
department, use that. Every workplace
has a different personality, and part of the
safety professional’s job is to anticipate
implementation in a way that will be
widely accepted. If you change out PPE,
save the serviceable items reclaimed for
back-ups when needed!
• Advise upper management and financial
planners of the need and changes/additions
to the selection program. They need
to know the basics, then the details,
because they are ultimately accountable
for the program’s success. Such efforts
also enhance your awareness of the
safety program’s goals.
• Written policy that is readable,
understandable, accessible by employees,
and enforceable by the administration. If
you dread dealing with the written
materials, imagine how a new employee
wonders what it all means.
• PPE that is comfortable with
employee input as to style, sizing, and use. They use what they like much better.
We all enjoy having input into equipment
selection. Employees also have
more exposure to the actual hazards.
• An overall site audit to determine
what is really needed and where/how often.
From the everyday to the once-in-alifetime,
hazards can often be predicted,
and planned corrections can be put in
place before the injury happens.
• A restocked safety committee with
new members who are interested. If your
safety committee is tired, it will not be
effective. Energize it with new folks.
• A general request for assistance in
PPE selection from rank-and-file
employees. This can be done through
meetings, general awareness, or even a
survey. You want input from employees
on the problems with current PPE
they’re using. You will be shocked at the
variety of the information you receive—
good and also not so rosy.
• Constructive follow-up after an accident
to verify PPE was used and, if not
used, action to prevent the same situation
from recurring. You are not placing
blame, but making genuine efforts to
prevent another employee’s being
injured in the same manner.
Making a Good Impression
As safety professionals, we know most
injuries are preventable. Ensuring adequate
PPE use for the basic protection of
vision, head/face, and hearing is quick,
affordable, and offers a high return for
employee awareness and a chance for
increased upper management support.
That’s because such a program can show
your corporate management your successful
safety leadership in reducing costs
and on-the-job injuries.
This article originally appeared in the March 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.