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Get workers to wear their PPE: 16 best practices-1


Safety directors and supervisors know that personal protective equipment (PPE) works. Most employees say they believe PPE works, too. So why do safety directors and managers see workers not wearing PPE when they should be?

OSHA statistics show how often employees aren’t using their PPE. In 2018, three of the top 10 OSHA violations were for lack of protective gear:

  • The most cited violation: Fall Protection, General Requirements

  • The 4th most cited violation: Respiratory Protection, and

  • The 10th most cited violation: Eye and Face Protection.

Here’s a recent case:

OSHA cited a company after an electrician was injured while working on an electrical panel. He powered down the side of box he was going to work on, but then disconnected the ground wire.

The ground wire shifted into the other side of the box and touched a live wire. It caused an arc flash and badly burned the electrician.

The electrician wasn’t wearing his PPE. He had it on but took off his hood and gloves because it was easier to work without them.

The company appealed the OSHA fine, arguing unpreventable employee misconduct.

The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission upheld the OSHA fine.

“Getting tough” on PPE or increasing safety training isn’t a cure-all. Companies get better results when using multiple strategies that work.

Here are 16 proven ideas from the editors of Safety News Alert:

1.   Keep extra PPE on hand

Some facilities store extra PPE (gloves, goggles, face shields, hard hats) on site for when workers “forget” or misplace their gear.

For example: Camden Iron & Metal, Inc., in Camden, NJ, stores dozens of variously sized PPE in plastic drums in its main office. Workers check in at the office in the morning and pick up their paychecks there.

So the drums are visible and accessible for anyone who needs an extra set of gear.

2.   Let them take it home

Studies show that people who wear PPE at home for cutting grass, woodwork, and other weekend projects, are more likely to wear PPE at work. Practicing safety at home leads to good habits at work.

Consider ordering “extra” PPE, like eyewear, gloves, hard hats, etc., that workers can take home with them.

Bonus: PPE helps reduce the risk of home accidents, reducing missed days from work, potential bogus workers’ comp claims and medical insurance claims (if an employee is covered through his or her company).

3.   Training idea: Eye protection

Goggles provide better eye protection than safety glasses, particularly against sparks or flying objects that can strike the eye from the side.

But workers typically prefer glasses because they’re more comfortable.

One way to show them that goggles are the better choice: Bring some onions and knives to your next safety meeting.

Have some workers cut onions while wearing glasses, and have other do it wearing goggles.

The workers wearing glasses will be “crying” for the extra protection that goggles provide!

4.   Routinely check for wear and tear

Have supervisors and/or line employees routinely check the condition of PPE. Problems may include:

  • holes and tears in gloves

  • frays or no elasticity on eyewear straps, and

  • missing or damaged fall protection (body vests, lanyards, etc.).

Make sure checkers note damaged PPE and have supervisors throw the stuff out.

5.   Occasional reminders pay off

OSHA’s hearing protection standard is clear: Employers must have a hearing conservation program in place if workers are exposed to a time-weighted average (TWA) noise level of 85 decibels (dBA) or higher over an 8-hour work shift.

That doesn’t mean workers always wear it!

Your supervisors should do spot checks around loud machinery or tools to ensure people are wearing their earmuffs or earplugs. Occasional reminders can help do the trick.

For repeat violators, follow standard disciplinary procedures (oral warning, written warning, suspension, and so on).