'Making the Case': CD or Print?

A bruise, a cut, an eye, a finger, a little lost work . . . the costs of a workplace injury can quickly add up. However, construction safety officers and their supervisors daily weigh these costs against the costs of providing their employees with the proper personal protective equipment. Perhaps surprisingly, they often decide the costs outweigh the benefits.

While we may hate to admit it, you can put a price on safety--and at first glance, it can appear high. The cost of equipping a large crew with the proper apparel, head protection, eyewear, hearing protection, and other task-specific safety equipment may look more expensive than worker's compensation payments, slightly increased insurance premiums, and the lost time of one or two workers on somewhat rare occasions. Besides, there's always that old equipment sitting in the warehouse. Business is business and the bottom line is everything when it comes to staying afloat, so the choice seems "painfully" obvious.

Or is it? The International Safety Equipment Association wants us to look again. In its new "Making the Case for Safety Equipment Toolkit," ISEA gives construction safety officers and other industry players a wealth of information and ideas to help make the business case for PPE with their supervisors, equip their workers properly, and reduce costs. Available in both CD and three-ring binder formats, the kit is intended to help marketers and distributors of PPE raise awareness about its applications and value and demonstrate its cost-effectiveness. While the kit probably would help a struggling sales representative, its real value is as a PPE resource for anyone, from insurers and labor unions to supervisors and workers.

The CD is viewed through Adobe Acrobat Reader®, available free for download at www.adobe.com, and is navigated by clicking through a simple menu or by scrolling from page to page. After a brief introduction to ISEA and an overview on the kit and its uses, the second of the CD's six sections explains the role of PPE in workplace safety and gives users a general, step-by-step guide on instituting a PPE safety program. This section includes a list of information sources at associations, unions, government agencies, insurance companies, trade publications, and trade shows involved with construction worker safety, complete with contact information.

Compliance Assistance
PPE needs and requirements vary greatly depending on specific tasks performed and the hazards unique to every job site. OSHA requires that employers conduct an in-depth evaluation of the equipment needed to protect workers against the hazards at the workplace (29 CFR 1910.132(d)).

Helping users comply and avoid costly purchase blunders, the kit's "PPE at Work" section gives guidance on undertaking a job site audit, including a checklist of questions to ask when identifying and assessing hazards and a PPE selection guide to minimize them. Applicable to several industries, the 10-page guide features in-depth information on the right PPE for various hazard exposures and any applicable standards.

For users in the heavy construction industry, this section also features clear, color photographs of workers wearing proper PPE for 14 tasks common to the industry, including a list of the items pictured and brief explanations of situations mandating specific equipment.

The kit's fifth section, probably intended to be the most helpful for marketers, uses data and anecdotal information to demonstrate the monetary benefits of PPE in the workplace. This section explains the direct and indirect costs of a workplace injury, emphasizing the indirect with a list of "hidden" costs the kit claims could represent up to 30 times the direct costs.

This section includes a worksheet and formula to calculate the damage even a minor workplace injury could do to a company's bottom line in terms of revenue the company must generate to recover the cost of the injury. While the formula has the potential to provide a unique and probably effective perspective, it requires that you calculate the indirect costs of the injury, many of which seem extremely difficult to quantify. How exactly does one go about figuring the precise cost of time lost by employees who stop to help? How do you measure the cost of lost employee morale?

Helpful Testimonials
ISEA makes its best case for the use of PPE and increases the kit's credibility in the next section, entitled "PPE Testimonials." This section consists of trade journal articles on the importance of safety equipment in preventing injuries and saving lives. The articles cover nearly every type of PPE in depth, often including statistics on accidents, the PPE that could have prevented them, and the price range for renting or purchasing that equipment. The importance of employee PPE training, proper fitting equipment, and use enforcement are thoroughly discussed.

Helpful and informative as this section is, CD users may find it confusing. At least one of the publications features stories that are continued onto another page, sometimes two or three screens later, leaving the potential for not only the user, but also the story's meaning to become lost.

Actually, the binder format of the kit is more practical for the construction industry, its target audience. It's more easily accessed, quicker to navigate, and contains nearly the same material as can be found on the CD.

The ISEA Buyer's Guide
Both CD and binder kits include the ISEA Buyer's Guide, a thorough listing of every category of safety products and respective manufacturers. The guide also contains a directory of manufacturers, including addresses, phone and fax numbers, and Web sites.

The price of the ISEA "Making the Case for Safety Equipment" binder toolkit, which includes one CD and a copy of ISEA's new PPE cost-benefit brochure, starts at $59.95. The CD sells separately, starting at $19.95 for one. More information on the toolkit can be found in the "Partnership for Worker Protection" section of ISEA's site, www.safetyequipment.org.

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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