The Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) sets occupational health and safety rules and regulations in the United States. Many of these rules address employers’ responsibility to protect their workers from known hazards, which may include exposure to toxic chemicals, excessive noise levels, mechanical dangers, heat or cold stress, or unsanitary conditions.
Workplace hazards cannot always be eliminated, but they often can be mitigated by the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Safety Services Co., a leading provider of safety and compliance training products and services, notes that PPE is used for activities ranging from manufacturing to office work and can include:
- Eye and face protection, including safety glasses, face shields, and welding helmets
- Head protection, such as hard hats
- Hand and arm protection, such as durable work gloves or chemical- or liquid-resistant gloves
- Foot and leg protection, including steel-toed boots or foot and shin guards
- Hearing protection, including earplugs or earmuffs
Equipment plays a proven role in workplace safety. Of some 770 workers who suffered facial injuries, only 1 percent were wearing proper protection, according to a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 16 percent of employees who sustained head injuries were wearing hard hats.
Such findings have led to laws requiring employers to provide PPE. Employers must also provide OSHA employee training in proper PPE use. Through programs such as Eastern Kentucky University’s Master of Science in Safety, Security, and Emergency Management (MSSSEM), students can gain detailed knowledge about worker safety. Graduates become valuable assets in helping their employers to comply with OSHA regulations.
Noncompliance with PPE
Despite the proven effectiveness of PPE, not all employees use it.
“We find it disheartening that people continue to put themselves at risk by failing to wear PPE when undertaking hazardous tasks,” said Randy Kates, general manager of the safety business for Kimberly-Clark Professional. “Despite the importance of PPE, there is still an unacceptably high rate of noncompliance in the workplace.”
In 2012, Kimberly-Clark conducted a survey that attempted to uncover the roots of PPE noncompliance. The main reason, cited by 69 percent of respondents, was a feeling that PPE was unnecessary or overkill in a specific situation. Other reasons included:
- The equipment was uncomfortable or too hot
- It decreased productivity by making it harder to perform tasks
- It was not available near the work task when needed
- It did not fit properly
- It was unattractive
Encouraging PPE Compliance
Consistent use of PPE is essential to a safe workplace. Employers are not just legally but, many would argue, also ethically required to make sure all occupational health and safety rules and regulations are followed. “We have a moral responsibility to make sure that workers who showed up to work today are still alive to punch the clock tomorrow,” said then U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in 2015.
On its website, compliance consulting firm Carolina Safety Consultants offers this checklist of “5 Ways to Encourage Employees to Wear Their PPE”:
- Explain the importance of PPE. If workers do not understand why a certain piece of PPE is necessary, they will not be committed to using it. Owners, supervisors, or safety managers should clearly explain the dangers of the work environment and describe what could happen if proper PPE is not used. Use case examples, if possible. Employees are more likely to protect themselves if they understand the consequences of noncompliance.
- Show proper use and fit. Correct handling of PPE can make the equipment more comfortable to wear and use. Companies should train incoming employees on all required PPE and provide periodic refresher sessions for long-term workers. Correct use and fit will not only increase comfort and compliance, they will also make the PPE more effective when hazards arise.
- Take employee input. Solicit employees’ opinions on model and brand of PPE. Encourage workers to consider style as well as comfort and functionality. If employees like the way their PPE looks and feels, they are much more likely to wear it. Being consulted also increases employees’ buy-in and commitment to using PPE.
- Get employees involved. Encourage workers to brainstorm ways to spread the word about consistent use of PPE. One suggestion is having workers create their own “Why I Work Safe” boards, where they post pictures of loved ones or even a favorite hobby they couldn’t do if they were injured. The boards can be placed where employees can see them daily and updated quarterly or yearly to provide new examples.
- Lead by example. Company owners or managers should wear their PPE when they are out on the floor or in the field, no matter how briefly. If management takes PPE seriously, employees will too.
Management should be committed to the consistent use of PPE and should call out and discourage infractions. Reprimands or disciplinary action, however, should be the manager’s last resort. As Edwin Zalewski points out on the Occupational Health & Safety website, “When you discipline an employee for not wearing PPE, you have already missed the goal: getting the employee to wear it in the first place.”
Educating workers before problems arise is the best way to encourage compliance in the use of personal protective equipment.
Eastern Kentucky University’s Master of Science in Safety, Security, and Emergency Management Program (MSSSEM)
Encouraging the proper use of personal protective equipment within a company, organization, or government agency is one of the many critical responsibilities for which MSSSEM degree-holders are educated.
EKU offers courses in emergency planning and response, security management, homeland security, industrial safety, crisis response, fire safety, and intelligence analysis to students interested in taking one of the university’s 3 MSSSEM concentrations: Occupational safety, emergency management, and homeland security.
The fully accredited online emergency management degree program can prepare students to sit for their Associate Safety and Health Manager (ASHM) certification and the Certified Safety and Health Manager (CSHM) exam. For additional information, visit the EKU MSSSEM webpage today.
Types of PPE: Safety Services Co.
Kimberly-Clark PPE Survey – Kimberly-Clark
Statement of US Labor Secretary Perez on Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2015 – OSHA
PPE Encouragement – Carolina Safety Consultants
PPE Overview and Laws – OSHA
Injuries Due to Lack of PPE Use – Bureau of Labor Statistics
PPE Enforcement – Occupational Health & Safety