The Power of Choice in AR/FR Clothing Programs
Looking to increase employee compliance and comfort? It might be time to leave your “no-choice” program in the past.
- By Barb Fitzgeorge
- May 01, 2023
Even when we recognize a requirement is in our best interest, it’s human nature to resist being told what to do. However, when people have options—even when all those options meet specific requirements—they are more likely to comply, be comfortable and be satisfied. The same goes for arc-rated and flame resistant (AR/FR) clothing and PPE programs.
Unfortunately, to meet safety requirements as quickly and (seemingly) inexpensively as possible, employers often dictate a single AR/FR shirt and pant combination in a single fabric, weight, style and color. This rigid offering is best known as a “no-choice” program, which leads to a variety of issues:
- Workers not wearing PPE at all or not wearing it properly
- Workers not properly maintaining clothing out of resentment
- Reduced productivity due to discomfort and diminished morale
- High investment of management’s time administering and fielding complaints related to the clothing program
Luckily, these problems have a realistic solution that improves compliance, comfort, access to innovation, morale and cost: offer employee-level product choice through a managed AR/FR clothing program. Learn all the benefits companies reap when they put the power of choice in the hands of their employees.
Most employers tend to think offering a single-garment solution is the best way to keep their workers safe. However, this type of no-choice program actually has the opposite effect. Worker compliance suffers because employees feel like they have no say in a very personal decision—the clothing they are wearing every day. This can create dangerous gaps in personal safety and potentially costly compliance issues for your company, not to mention compliance issues with your company’s brand image standards.
On the other hand, when workers get to choose for themselves from a wide array of fabrics, garments and styles, they have agency—that is, the ability to act on their own behalf. When they are empowered to select the items, order them and have them shipped to their home, psychologically the PPE becomes theirs. As a result, they are much more likely to take pride in the clothing they’ve selected, wear it, wear it properly and take care of it.
Another major pitfall of the no-choice approach is that workers aren’t always going to be comfortable in the clothing chosen for them. Next time you’re in a room with a group of people, take note of what everyone is wearing. Even though everyone is exposed to the same temperature and humidity, you almost always find people in both short sleeves and long sleeves, natural fibers, synthetic fibers and blends, knit pullovers and woven button-ups and one, two or even three layers.
The fact is that what is comfortable for one is not comfortable for all. Because comfort is subjective—differing from person to person, day to day—there’s simply no way to make everyone happy with a cookie-cutter approach to AR/FR clothing. Workers who are uncomfortable may decide to alter the protective clothing system (rolling up sleeves, taking off protective layers or adding non-compliant layers, etc.) or—worse—not wear protective garments altogether. This can lead to potentially expensive non-compliance issues and could result in a safety incident.
A choice program, on the other hand, allows workers to choose from a reasonable array of comfortable fabrics that all meet your company’s protective, budget and company image needs. When workers have a choice and feel good in what they’re wearing, you’ll see employee comfort rise—and satisfaction, safety and compliance along with it.
Access to Innovation
Today’s consumer is informed and accustomed to having access to limitless selection outside of the workplace. By extension, they expect this same access and choice in their AR/FR clothing program—especially because innovative AR/FR clothing is available. In fact, stiff, boxy, hot and industrial-style AR/FR clothing is a thing of the past; the last 10 years have seen a revolution in AR/FR fabric and garment options, and manufacturers are constantly introducing innovations in style, comfort and protection.
With recent advancements in AR/FR clothing style, workers are increasingly expecting their protective clothing to offer the same comfort, characteristics and fit as their favorite everyday clothing. Yet, no-choice programs, which typically have contracts lasting three to five years, limit wearers to a single color, fabric and garment style, severely restricting the ability to leverage innovation both upfront and as it occurs during the life of the contract.
Choice programs, by contrast, are designed to allow real-time access to more comfortable, stylish or innovative garments as they come on the market, delivering important benefits to the worker and to your company alike.
Increased Employee Morale
Companies are often motivated to boost employee morale because it allows them to take advantage of several benefits that occur as a result: increased productivity, satisfaction and a positive attitude toward the company. The trick is figuring out how. Luckily, choice programs can help.
While no-choice programs can lead to challenges related to comfort and compliance with safety requirements—leading workers to blame the company for their discomfort and dissatisfaction—choice programs deliver a creative and cost-effective pathway to improved morale.
Choice programs allow workers to shop from a selection of comfortable, stylish clothing instead of being told what to wear by the company. Employees are empowered to purchase preferred items from a company-approved catalog, which features a wide variety of garments that meet company safety and image requirements.
The best thing about being comfortable while working is that you don’t have to think about how you’re feeling. Instead, employees can focus on their professional priorities, resulting in increased focus and productivity. This extends to increased job satisfaction and a better attitude toward the company as a whole.
There are many cost-saving opportunities companies can expect when switching from a no-choice program to a choice program. Three areas have the highest potential to positively impact your company’s budget.
1. Product cost. One of the most common cost-saving opportunities is through product cost. Leading choice program providers manufacture their own line or lines of price-competitive garments and have strong relationships with key distributors, allowing them to negotiate pricing. This ensures your company receives a wide variety of innovative products at the best prices.
2. Direct-to-user service. Known for their strong customer focus and turnkey approach, managed choice programs dramatically reduce management’s time spent on administering the program and fielding complaints. Plus, they offer services that allow them to work directly with end-users. This not only saves valuable company time but can also lead to significant monetary benefits.
3. Product care and longevity. By implementing a choice program, wearers are more likely to take pride in their garments. As a result, employees are more likely to wear protective clothing and wear it properly, increasing compliance and minimizing the possibility of costly citations. Additionally, employees are more likely to take better care of their AR/FR clothing because they have a sense of ownership over the garments they’ve chosen. This often results in an increased service life of the garment, meaning your company will not have to purchase replacement garments as frequently.
Moving Forward with a Managed Choice-Program
While more safety managers are prioritizing employee choice, there are still many workers being held back by a single-garment solution. If you are struggling with challenges around worker comfort, compliance, access to innovation, morale or cost, take a closer look at your AR/FR clothing program. Is there an opportunity to increase choice at the individual level? Are you aligned with a supplier who can help you harness the power of choice?
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.