How Supply Chain Disruption Compromises Employee Safety

How Supply Chain Disruption Compromises Employee Safety

We have been confronted with the reality of supply chain disruption.

Before the pandemic arrived, many of us hardly thought about how our everyday products were sourced. We have taken the journey to get these products from its manufacturing facility to the store shelves and our hands for granted. Today we are fully aware of the logistics it takes, and as we face each day, we are confronted with the reality of the great supply chain disruption. Many companies also face the same obstacle and may have to rethink their sourcing and logistics strategies. How do they cope, and what sacrifices are they willing to make?

The Great Supply Chain Disruption  

Supply chain disruption has become a significant challenge for the global economy since the pandemic and has continued to bring in a whole new parade of supply issues this year; time alone cannot solve this dilemma. Although public and private sectors have joined forces to revive and restore the supply chain, their efforts fell short.

Several actions were put in place to ensure that the public and healthcare providers have timely and continued access to high-quality PPE, such as gloves. Up to this date, the disruption of supply is still prevalent. It can be traced back to component scarcities, port congestion and shutdowns, unprecedented freight demand across rail, ocean carriage, truck driver and labor shortages and factory lockdown. Record-high inflation rates and soaring freight prices further complicate the issues.

US Customs and Border Protection withheld the release of gloves from multiple Malaysian factories suspected of using forced labor. China’s COVID-zero policy is causing extra strain and increasing pressure on the supply crisis. The war in Ukraine creates more barriers and adds chaos to the market. The saturation across all modes is intensifying as the worldwide supply crunch. 

Procurement Pressures  

Amidst the challenges, managers and distributors are considering various possible solutions and frustrating tradeoffs to keep their glove inventory filled, balancing budget, availability, storage and shrinkage. Pricing is not the only concern, but availability has overshadowed the latter. One constant thing is the need for hand protection required for workers’ performance and safety. The disruption can affect their ability to operate successfully, so they must adapt to these changing conditions. 

  • Preferred suppliers are running out of stock  
  • Price is too high for regularly purchased products  
  • Seeking lower-priced substitute products 
  • A direct challenge in buying products caused by limited availability or allocation  
  • Delayed deliveries of ordered products  
  • Canceled orders  

To overcome these issues, companies may need to adjust their procurement processes to emphasize flexibility, redundancy and transparency. In the face of trials, many employers are forced to use inferior and marginally less expensive alternative products, such as vinyl gloves or hybrid nitrile & vinyl gloves. Other companies are scrambling to get whatever glove they can, disregarding the brand or the manufacturer. Compliance and procurement departments are accelerating new vendor approvals or ignoring quality standard requirements to alleviate the supply constraint. Safety has also become an issue as many customers and distributors report that some manufacturers are rushing to fill the present demand with substandard merchandise.  

Safety and Quality go Hand-in-Hand 

According to OSHA, PPE is an acceptable method of controlling hazards alongside placing engineering, administrative controls, and substitution/elimination practices. For some operations that depend greatly on PPE for their employees' safety, the supply chain disruption jeopardizes their safety, regulatory compliance and operation efficiency. 

The lack of priority given to the quality of the gloves may lead to unnecessary risks that can harm the user. Poor quality products wear out faster and break more quickly; they cannot hold up to the usage of a good quality glove. Considering mechanical and chemical hazards, they tend to give lower results and may not provide adequate protection. They may not meet the specified product performance and intended use. Product defect rate may be high, resulting in malfunctions and loss of functionality imperative in the daily work environment. The short-lived durability causing frequent changes adds up quickly.

The compounding effect of poor-quality gloves comprises the costs resulting from product defects and company processes, practices, or functions that generate non-conformities and errors. OSHA estimated that employers pay almost $1 billion per week for direct workers' compensation costs alone. Workplace injuries and illnesses include social, direct and indirect costs such as workers' compensation payments, medical expenses and fees for legal services.

The supply chain disruption should not break the safety management efforts fitted within your company. Workers have the right to safety, and managers are responsible for keeping those in place.

Why Sustainability Matters  

Putting sustainability in front of the supply chain delivers significant benefits to the company. As each organization forms its green initiatives, the supply chain is always part of this change. The shift comes from the pressure of key stakeholders to apply and lean towards sustainable practices and operations. The need to advance supply chain sustainability resonates with business leaders and is driven by supply-chain professionals. They understand the positive results it will bring—support their customers to do business with environmentally conscious companies, business continuity, cost savings, benefits to company reputation and reduce carbon footprint. To build a resilient and sustainable supply chain, companies must holistically assess factors that pose a significant threat—changing geopolitical conditions, access to raw materials and environmental impacts.

The supply chain disruption is halting companies’ stepping forward to sustainability. Safety cannot wait, so purchasing managers are willed to deal with critical suppliers and balance the needs of other departments. With new market entrants, managers’ buying decisions are altered and priorities of price and immediate product availability become compelling, the appropriate due diligence when onboarding a new supplier is not implemented. Sustainability takes a backseat and suddenly becomes a complex issue, conflicting with real-time problems and solutions.

No End in Sight 

As businesses continue and warn their customers to experience delays as they contend with supply chain problems, the systemic issues and fragility go on. With freight costs remaining elevated, fuel charges at an all-time high, insurance costs rising, port situation worsening and the supply bottlenecks are all confluence factors hindering recovery and boosting inflation. Industry experts are predicting the global supply chain disruption will last another two years, yet there is no certainty given the volatility of the situation. We still hope that everything returns to normal, but the concept of normalcy is slowly paving the way to a “new” normal.

Without setting aside product quality, safety and overall sustainability, employers and procurement managers must confront the supply chain upheaval. The more a company understands the risks, the better it can prepare within the organization. It is critical to assess whether your supply chain relies on a few suppliers and whether there is a need to expand and have more critical or alternative suppliers if the supply chain falters.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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