“People are our most important asset.”
So managers used to say, back in the day when corporations paid consultants to help them develop mission statements and other such management “essentials.”
Don’t get me wrong—a lot of companies still have mission statements and some even use them as guidelines for overall company management and operations. Some companies even believe their people are their greatest asset and operate accordingly. But for many others, it seems that kind of talk was just another management flavor of the month, tossed aside and replaced when the next business trend came along.
What’s my point? Well, let me ask you a few questions: do all the employees of your company who need personal protective equipment (PPE) to safely do their jobs have what they need? Do they know how to use it? And now the big question: do workers at your facility actually use the PPE they need?
If the results of a recent study are any indication, the answer is likely to be no in a shocking number of cases. In a survey of safety professionals performed at the National Safety Council Congress in November, 85% of respondents said they had observed people in their organizations failing to wear PPE when they should have been. Nearly half of the survey respondents, who worked in a variety of fields ranging from manufacturing and construction to medical to law enforcement, said they had witnessed non-compliance on numerous occasions, while a lesser number (38%) described these occurrences as infrequent.
Responding to other questions, fully two-thirds (66%) of those surveyed said PPE compliance was an issue within their organizations. Forty percent described non-compliance as a “major concern” they were attempting to correct.
The professionals surveyed said the biggest reason workers at their companies didn’t use prescribed PPE was a feeling of invulnerability, as in: “It can’t happen to me.” This is not surprising. Many younger workers probably think of themselves as immortal, and/or as invulnerable to the effects of industrial chemicals and other workplace hazards. Old-timers, on the other hand, often feel they’re able to determine if they’re working safely or not, and if they have an accident it’s their own fault.
Besides the “it can’t happen to me” syndrome, other reasons given, in order of their frequency of selection, were:
- Lack of awareness of workplace hazards
- Lack of training on how to use PPE
- Ill-fitting, uncomfortable garments
- Lack of “breathability”
- Inadequate supplies.
Of course, industrial accidents do happen. They cost companies in the United States more than $120 billion, and kill more than 6,000 workers, each year in the U.S. Beyond accidents, some employees in finishing shops work with chemicals that can be potentially hazardous over long-term exposures.
Probably the most common types of protective gear these employees are supposed to use are gloves, safety glasses and masks or respirators. According to nearly one-third of respondents to the survey, the most important feature in glove selection was “the ability to conduct tasks involving dexterity and/or fine motor skills.” However, 43% of respondents said all the choices in a list provided to them—including “dexterity and/or fine motor skills,” fit, cut and chemical resistance, ability to work in wet or dry conditions and resistance to pathogens—were equally important. (Did I mention the survey was conducted by Kimberly Clark Professional, a supplier of gloves, safety glasses and other PPE? It was, and you can get more information about the survey and about the company’s line of protective gear here: www.kcprofessional.com/us/.)
But resistance from workers wasn’t the only reason for non-compliance issues. The survey also allowed respondents to select from a list of possible reasons for ongoing safety issues at their companies. The top three workplace issues cited were insufficient management support and/or resources for health and safety functions, under-reporting of workplace injuries and illnesses, and worker compliance with safety protocols.
So what’s it going to take to get workers to use the PPE they’re supposed to be using? Well, ready availability of better-fitting, more usable protective gear would be a good start. But it’s also a management issue. So get out there. Talk with your employees. Educate them not only in the reasons they should be using PPE, but also how to do don the gear to maximize ease of use and effectiveness. Make safety a priority at your facility every day.
Because, after all, people—and the experience, knowledge and dedication they bring to their jobs—are your organization’s most important asset.