The Perils of Safety Management: Why Don’t Employees Wear Required PPE?
You’ve likely seen it and corrected it, only to find that it happens again just a few short weeks later. An employee brazenly attempts to complete a job while refusing to wear the appropriate electrical personal protective equipment (PPE). Regardless of how much work you’ve done to provide equipment, train employees, and enforce your program, many employees will conveniently forget to wear something like a balaclava, proper face shield, or properly rated arc flash suit. But why?
In a recent blog, we discussed some of the problems with the current electrical safety market and issues that can emerge as a result of complacency. Today, we would like to explore why employees don’t wear the right equipment when completing jobs requiring PPE.
The Challenge: Employees Don’t Wear PPE
There are many excuses employees will make for not wearing the right PPE for the job. Whether they feel they are invincible, find PPE uncomfortable, or just think they can get away with it, many employees may conveniently forget something they need when they set out to complete a task. Unfortunately, as an employer, you are still responsible if something happens.
In Safety, Everything Exists for a Reason
In an upcoming article we wrote for Occupational Safety and Health Magazine on the importance of developing a safety culture, we explored an unfortunately common topic: Underequipping. An unfortunately common occurrence, many employees will skirt the issue of donning appropriate PPE when completing small or quick tasks.
In the article, we found that while a daily wear program offered a “better than nothing” approach to electrical safety, it’s rarely enough for many tasks, even those considered small, quick, or easy.
Electrical safety PPE requirements exist for a reason. The alphabet soup of acronyms, abbreviations, and initialisms that guide the manufacture, use, testing, and measurement in the electrical safety world exist for a reason. Unfortunately, even the best laid plans fail.
The Call for Personal Protective Equipment
We’ve used the phrase “last line of defense” to describe PPE on a regular basis, because that’s what it is—the option when all feasible or effective options have been exhausted. This was enshrined into the latest NFPA 70E requirements when the governing body added the hierarchy of controls to the main text.
While Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards are often a few years behind NFPA 70E requirements, the hierarchy has long been part of hazard prevention and control programs. Knowing this, PPE is among the most strictly enforced regulations. OSHA is very clear on their PPE policy and the employer’s role in providing, educating, and maintaining PPE, as well as enforcing PPE use:
1910.132(a) Application. Protective equipment, including personal protective equipment for eyes, face, head, and extremities, protective clothing, respiratory devices, and protective shields and barriers, shall be provided, used, and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition wherever it is necessary by reason of hazards of processes or environment, chemical hazards, radiological hazards, or mechanical irritants encountered in a manner capable of causing injury or impairment in the function of any part of the body through absorption, inhalation or physical contact.
Think of it like this: You can do everything right—supplying employees with the right PPE, training them on how to properly use it, keeping it in working condition by testing, maintaining the cleanliness of the equipment, and documenting every element of your safety program in an employee handbook. However, if the employee still ignores this, you still face the fines if OSHA shows up or worse, an accident happens.
Top Reasons Employees Fail to Don PPE
If you could find an employee working unsafely right now and asked why they weren’t wearing the appropriate equipment, you’ll likely hear one of the following:
- Forgetfulness: “I just forgot.”
- Misunderstanding: “I didn’t know.”
- Fearlessness: “I won’t get in an accident,” “I’ve gone my entire career without an accident,” “that only happens to other people.”
- Time Restraints: “I didn’t have time,” “it takes too much time”
- Discomfort: “It doesn’t fit right,” “it’s not comfortable”
Potential Cures to the Age-Old PPE Challenge
Developing and enforcing personal protective equipment use has been an age-old concern for employers. The five excuses listed above were highlighted in a 2007 survey, and you still hear the exact same excuses 12 years later.
Training or Retraining
When an employee forgets to wear PPE, it’s often a sign that they have forgotten their training or are covering up for their lack of knowledge, time, or fear. It may also be their way to blame a supervisor or manager.
It’s likely a sign that you should retrain employees on the basics of PPE use and the dangers that exist when a workplace injury does happen. Following the training or retraining, have workers sign a document stating that they have received and understand the training.
Improving Product Fit and Comfort
Another thing that hasn’t changed since the 2007 study of workers on why they won’t wear PPE? Many still find it uncomfortable. Understandably so. No one enjoys donning a CAT 4 suit. In fact, many balk at a CAT 2 suit. They’re heavy, restrictive, and hard to put on.
For years, this has been one of the hardest things to address. You can train a worker, incentivize PPE use, write warnings and other punishments for not wearing PPE. However, every suit felt the same—bulky, uncomfortable, and restrictive. In the time we spent interviewing safety professionals and electricians prior to our launch, this was one of the most talked about issues, and the reason we worked to reengineer electrical PPE.
Many Paths to Safety: Make Your Employees’ Path to PPE Easier
Workarounds and avoidance of standards are by no means unique to the electrical safety market; they’re not even unique to safety. You can find articles about workaround challenges any time something is perceived as an inconvenience whether it’s in the software industry, healthcare, or safety. However, when it does pertain to safety, workarounds become the most dangerous.
There are many ways to help employees understand the importance of wearing their PPE, but if training, awareness, and policies don’t help, it may be time to ask yourself if it may be the PPE itself.
At Enespro PPE, we conducted extensive research with electricians, and electrical safety professionals to gain critical insights required to achieve breakthrough improvements in electrical safety PPE, developing arc resistant suits and other electrical safety gear touted by a safety manager at an electrical contractor client as “the most comfortable arc flash suit I’ve ever worn.”
We invite you to learn more about our products here, subscribe to our email list for the latest in safety news, and stay tuned for our upcoming guide on developing a safety culture.
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