Stakeholders should understand from the start that the PPE improvement program is not a one-time effort.

Cross-Functional Support Ensures Success

Early endorsement can prevent interruptions and maximize sustainable results in your PPE program.

Everyone within a manufacturing facility can benefit from a comprehensive personal protective equipment (PPE) program. To be successful, however, the program must gain key stakeholder support at the executive and plant management levels early in the process to optimize the results.

Safety and procurement managers at a medical device manufacturer, for example, suspected the company was paying too much for employees' hand protection. The company partnered with a PPE manufacturer to assess the gloves used for various applications to determine whether workers were wearing the best products. The assessment also was designed to identify best practices.

Assessment results revealed workers in several manufacturing areas were wearing gloves that were not aligned with their protective needs. Recommendations were made for hand protection products that would provide the appropriate level of protection while reducing product and related costs by 30 percent. Savings would result from fewer injuries, improved cost performance, PPE laundering, and controls. But challenges arose when regulatory compliance personnel and departmental supervisors -- key representatives within the organization who were not included during the early stages of planning -- did not support implementation. These individuals lacked ownership involvement because they were not invited to participate in the process when the improved PPE program launched.

While the plant was able to achieve its injury reduction objectives, the company realized only 2.4 percent of the potential cost savings. Savings were attributed to reduced injuries and compared to the 30 percent program savings that would have been possible if the company had implemented all of the recommendations.

The Right Executive Combination
Many manufacturers recognize a comprehensive PPE program as an important tool for creating a safe and productive work environment while reducing costs. Obtaining cross-functional support during the program's early stages will help to achieve quantifiable and sustainable performance results.

Every executive within a manufacturing company has his or her own pain points and concerns. Safety and operational executives, for instance, want to prevent injuries and improve efficiencies; procurement seeks to optimize facility costs. Quality assurance is interested in factors such as throughput, defect rates, and yields, and unions play a pivotal role in ensuring worker welfare.

A successful PPE program should have executive sponsorship and early endorsement from everyone who can facilitate the implementation of improvement opportunities and benefit from the program's results. Departments such as finance, engineering, regulatory compliance, and human resources should be included, in addition to the above areas.

Establishing a line of communication between the PPE partner and key cross-functional stakeholders helps to ensure product recommendations are aligned with organizational requirements and best practices are adopted across the entire plant or multiple sites. Gaining the endorsement of key representatives early in the process reduces the likelihood of roadblocks that can prevent implementation of a comprehensive PPE program that has the potential to provide substantial value.

Unnecessary interruptions not only negate the time invested but prevent the organization from gaining the performance advantages and cost savings that can result from a comprehensive PPE program.

Gaining Support at the Plant Level
Once cross-functional endorsement is obtained at the corporate level, the next step is to gain the same level of support at the factory level. Managers within the plant must understand the importance of working together to optimize a PPE program that will meet overall company initiatives and achieve bottom-line improvements.

Some companies begin by distributing a corporate letter of endorsement that outlines the program's specific objectives and expected results. Other facilities use communication tools provided by the PPE partner, such as brochures and online messages, to explain potential deliverables.

Once corporate level executives introduce the program and its objectives, the plant(s) typically schedules meetings to develop milestones and timelines to ensure successful progression. The PPE partner can help to facilitate departmental manager meetings to introduce the assessment, explain the program implementation process, and discuss the potential to improve workers' safety and compliance.

The initial meeting presents the opportunity to address the value the improved PPE program can provide to cross-functional stakeholders -- whether it's reducing the number of SKUs and related carrying costs or meeting quality assurance objectives to reduce the number of reworks. Encouraging personal interaction between departmental managers and the PPE partner presents the chance for stakeholders to create a dialogue regarding expectations and procedures.

Continuous Improvement
Based on the company's size, all PPE recommendations should be tested within several departments or at two or three plant locations before the improved program is rolled out companywide. Testing the proposed solutions will allow the manufacturer and PPE partner to make any necessary product and process adjustments prior to implementation.

Stakeholders should understand from the start that the PPE improvement program is not a one-time effort; it is a continuous process designed to enhance the organization's return on investment. Benchmarks will be established that can later be used to validate improvement opportunities and confirm additional cost savings.

Once PPE product and practice changes have been in place for a mutually agreeable time period, the executive sponsor and PPE partner should re-engage key stakeholders to review the results. Corporate and plant level management will measure the financial impact of recommended solutions and provide feedback as to how the solutions are working throughout the plant or across multiple locations. Any required product and process adjustments can be implemented as needed to further reduce costs or improve operational processes.

This evaluation session, subsequent measurement, and follow-up are essential to ensure that sponsor objectives for optimal business solutions and best practices are met and the company reaps the greatest ROI.

Summary
A comprehensive PPE program that has the support of key stakeholders at the corporate and plant levels has the potential to yield significant safety, productivity, and cost improvements. An automotive manufacturer, for example, was able to decrease injuries by 70 percent and reduce SKUs 24 percent by implementing recommendations resulting from a comprehensive PPE program that had the endorsement of key safety, procurement, operations, and production personnel from the start.

Gaining cross-functional commitment for a comprehensive PPE program not only will move the improvement process forward, but also will ensure the company benefits from optimal cost and performance advantages that positively impact the bottom line.

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