It's the Right Thing to Do

PPE training offers manufacturers cost and performance advantages.

STUDIES confirm that most workplace injuries are preventable. The level of prevention achieved, however, will depend upon the manufacturer's commitment to safety and also employees' willingness to become involved in injury prevention. Comprehensive employee education through ongoing training programs about the use, wear, and care of PPE is a critical step in creating a safer working environment and reducing injury-related costs.

Below are questions frequently asked about PPE training programs and the advantages associated with this type of education.

Q: Why is it important to train workers about PPE and, specifically, hand protection products?

A: Proper product usage and employee compliance with safety regulations reduce a company's risk of worker injury and the resulting impact on the workplace. Educating employees about the benefits of PPE empowers them to make the right choices in using protective equipment and protecting themselves from job-related hazards.

Workers should be asked to provide input early in the training program planning process. This will not only help to ensure the training is on target, but also will help gain workers' acceptance and support.

Q: What are some specific advantages of PPE training--especially, cost and productivity advantages?

A: PPE training is the right thing to do for employees and the entire organization. Because knowledge is power, education can enhance employees' feelings about the level of safety and security within their work environment, which--studies have shown--directly links to the organization's overall business performance.

Employee training can also affect a company's bottom line by reducing the costs associated with workplace injuries. The comprehensive cost of an injury is much more expensive than the initial medical treatment. Productivity, employee morale, and public opinion all take a hit when severe injuries are reported. Training programs not only have the potential to reduce the direct costs associated with injuries. They also can improve productivity by minimizing worker and process downtime. As an added benefit, PPE training can have a positive impact on insurance premiums while creating a safety culture that will help keep safety top-of-mind.

As an example of the advantages associated with a PPE training program, we recently worked with a large airline carrier to solve a hand protection problem that involved the use of a chemical mixture. Workers were required to apply the mixture by hand, which resulted in a number of workers reporting skin irritation and sensitivity to the mixture. After assessing the problem and talking with workers, we identified a solution that involved double gloving, with workers changing the outside glove at specified periods to maximize protection. Training was required for all employees so they would understand the glove changing/disposal process and the risks associated with not changing the gloves as prescribed.

Since the double gloving process was implemented and workers were trained, the airline has been able to use a less expensive glove while providing better protection for its employees.

Q: Is PPE training costly?

A: The cost of PPE training is minimal, especially when compared to the potential costs associated with recordable and non-recordable injuries. Fines resulting from regulatory violations, increased insurance premiums, increased medical costs, and the cost of work stoppages add up quickly. Most PPE product manufacturers provide product training for their customers at a minimal charge. They also will consult with customers to develop programs that meet regulatory mandates and ensure worker safety.

Q: Who should conduct the training?

A: Companies are likely to handle their training programs in different ways, depending upon the complexity of the training needed and the audience. Many companies will build an internal PPE program, complete with training courses, to meet their ongoing PPE and general safety training needs. Also, they may look to outside resources such as certified product experts, industry experts, manufacturer representatives, and Certified Safety Training Consultants/Schools as options for PPE training.

Q: Who should receive the training?

A: Everyone in the facility--from line workers to department chairpersons--should receive some level of safety training, depending on their responsibilities and presence within the various production areas. The goal is to make employees aware of hazards and equip them to perform specific tasks with minimal risk. All newly hired employees should receive safety and PPE training, as should employees working with new technology and/or process and product changes and updates.

Q: What areas should be addressed during training?

A: We recommend that PPE training programs address three specific areas: 1) Why and when PPE is needed, 2) How to use the PPE, and 3) Proper PPE care and storage.

First, workers must recognize that they will need to wear hand and/or arm protection any time they are exposed to specific workplace hazards, such as chemicals, extreme heat or cold, and equipment with sharp or jagged edges. They also must understand the type(s) of gloves that will provide the greatest level of protection for various applications. If workers are provided gloves and sleeves made of Kevlar, for example, they should know why it is important for them to wear these particular gloves or sleeves and why this specific product was chosen.

Workers also must recognize that a single style of glove will not work for all applications and that wearing gloves or sleeves does not automatically eliminate the hazard. Some workers assume that once they have the gloves on their hands, they are totally protected from any hazard, which, of course, is not true.

Second, workers must use the hand and arm protection products provided and use them properly to achieve the highest level of protection. Improper use could increase the risk of injury and create a false sense of security. Workers wearing gloves designed to protect them from cuts, for example, must be aware that those same gloves could pose a risk when used around machinery with moving parts that could grab the glove, pull the hand inside, and crush it.

Third, workers must learn to identify when gloves and sleeves need to be laundered, repaired, or discarded. Gloves and sleeves that are torn, split, discolored, or otherwise damaged should not be worn. Most manufacturers provide guidelines for cleaning, inspecting, and storing these products.

To maximize their useful life, gloves and sleeves should be stored in a cool, dark environment where they are shielded from ozone and ultraviolet light. They should be stored away from steam pipes, radiators, and other heat sources that could impair their effectiveness and shorten their useable life.

Q: How might training be delivered if a company has multiple locations?

A: Some companies have successfully created Web-based training programs that are available to workers at a number of other locations. They have also shared brochures, signage, training videos, interactive CD-ROMs, and newsletters across multiple sites.

Whatever methods the manufacturer chooses to use, training should be continuous. Manufacturers also should look for opportunities to share best practices among departments and multiple facilities.

Q: Where can companies go for help in developing and implementing a training program at their facility?

A: Companies have two great sources for training assistance: the suppliers from which they purchase PPE products and the Internet. PPE manufacturers often offer training relative to their products at a minimal cost to their customers. Searching the Internet will help by providing a list of training options for PPE and safety training.

Companies should consider conducting an internal assessment to determine specific training needs and areas that need to be addressed relative to compliance. The assessment may be used to examine PPE distribution methods and controls and determine opportunities to standardize products, improve productivity, optimize PPE product inventory, and maximize the overall performance of all PPE products.

Training workers about PPE products is not a hit-or-miss opportunity that is offered once a year to select employees. Rather, this type of training should be part of an ongoing and comprehensive safety program that is designed with specific objectives and targeted to all employees, depending upon their responsibilities and presence on the plant floor.

While the cost of PPE training is minimal, the benefits are quickly realized through overall cost savings relative to injuries, lost productivity, and compliance. PPE training can go a long way toward boosting morale and instilling a sense of confidence that employees are working in a safe environment.

This article appeared in the September 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the September 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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