When using PPE, whether it

Use PPE in the Workplace and Keep Your 'Eyes' on the Prize

Next is the concern that PPE is unattractive or doesn't fit properly. If employees are content with their appearance, they will be more likely to use PPE.

The American workplace is a minefield of potential dangers, coming in all sizes and shapes––sparks, noise, chemicals, falling objects, and sharp edges, just to name a few. The smart plan would be to encase the worker in a protective bubble. But odds are such an endeavor would severely hinder productivity. Still, procedures still have to be instituted to safeguard employees and prevent workplace injuries that can result in soaring workers' compensation costs for employers.

To that end, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that all employers protect their employees from workplace hazards that can cause injury by not only providing personal protection equipment (PPE), but also making sure their workers know how to use it and when to use it. When using PPE, whether it’s safety glasses, gloves, ear plugs, or full-body suits, employers must make sure employees have the proper training regarding:

  • When PPE is necessary and how to properly wear it.
  • What are its limitations?
  • How to determine whether the PPE is no longer effective or is damaged.
  • How to care for the PPE.
  • Whom to inform should the PPE need to be replaced.

The math is simple. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if all workers made sure they were wearing protective gloves, it is estimated that more than one million hospital emergency visits by U.S. workers per year could be avoided. Hand injuries alone can cost employers more than $500 million dollars per year, once you calculate lost time, settlements, etc.

The problem here isn't that employers are failing to practice what they preach. The problem is that they don't preach. A recent survey commissioned by the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) of safety influencers in the heavy construction industry revealed that the main reason workers chose not to wear PPE when needed was because "employers don't require or enforce usage." While many employers realize that the use of PPE can pay huge dividends in workplace safety, plus result in higher morale and lower insurance premiums, many do not update their equipment, assess new situations, or require rigorous enforcement. The adverse result is loss of manpower (which few companies already running bare minimum can afford) and higher workers’ compensation costs. For some companies, a high number of injuries also hinders their competitiveness when bidding on certain contracts. This is a high price to pay for the low price of a carton of gloves and safety goggles.

Sometimes creating a culture of safety on the job can translate to employees' off-work time. I recently worked with a company, one that did not have a stellar record of PPE use, that lost a key employee after he was injured working on his lawn. Seems he was weed-whacking without wearing protective glasses and caught a rock in the eye, sapping him of all vision in that eye.

While the incident didn't happen at work, the employer still felt the full brunt. The employee was a truck driver for the company and can now no longer do the job, as he is unable to renew his CDL. The employer will lose one of its best and longest-tenured drivers in a market where it is hard to find talented employees.

Overcoming Barriers to PPE Use
So why are some employees still reluctant to wear PPE? Would you believe "they don't feel comfortable on me"? If this be the case, a solution might be to involve employees in the selection. It may be that more than one style is needed to accommodate the workforce.

The second most common reason is the belief that PPE is not necessary for the task. Employees may have performed the same task for many years and never been injured. But those dice can roll only so far. Why not show employees videos of what can happen or having someone who sustained an injury speak to the group? Trust me, the effect can be jarring.

Next is the concern that PPE is unattractive or doesn't fit properly. If employees are content with their appearance, they will be more likely to use PPE.

Increasingly, manufacturers are looking to improve style; offering some options in color and style can increase use.

Even regulations can be outdated and ineffective. Falls are the leading cause of injury and fatalities in the workplace, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consensus of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Launching a sweeping overhaul of the walking-working surfaces and PPE standards to prevent injuries from slips, trips, and falls, OSHA acknowledged that most of its existing standards for walking-working surfaces are more than 30 years old and inconsistent with both national consensus standards and more-recently promulgated OSHA standards addressing fall protection. Citing the 2009 death of a worker at a chocolate processing plant who fell from an unguarded work platform, OSHA's proposed rulemaking includes significant revisions to the existing general industry scaffold standards to better protect workers from such injuries.

As the rule stands now, for the most part, employers are only required to use guardrail systems. Under the proposed rule, employers would have to install a second layer of safety in place by also choosing the most effective fall protection option as added protection, ranging from the traditional safety nets to self-retracting lanyards. The proposed rule also would allow OSHA to fine employers who allow workers to climb certain ladders without fall protection.

In proposing the new rule, OSHA Administrator David Michaels referred to the 2009 accident by stating, "This is a clear and grave example of the human cost incurred when fall protection safeguards are absent, ignored, or inadequate."

For employers, PPE can protect not only their employees, but also their company's bottom line. Case in point: An auto parts manufacturer in Michigan, which traditionally saw its claims costs increasing at the rate of 7-8 percent annually, now suddenly saw them escalating by more than 20 percent. A Certified WorkComp Advisor (CWCA) reviewed all open and prior injury claims, OSHA logs, and safety committee minutes and found that part of the problem was a safety issue centered on employees not wearing safety glasses.

Working closely with the safety committee and the Human Resources Department, they were able to reduce the number of reported injuries and near misses by implementing a PPE training session and a "safe reporting without retaliation" rule that allowed proper reporting of safety glasses issues among co-workers. This action helped in part to reduce the number and size of the company’s workers’ compensation claims and lower its premium costs significantly.

The company now uses its excellent safety record to beat the competition for work. It's a win-win for the employer and the employees.

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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