Tips for Encouraging PPE Wearer Compliance – Part 1

Respiratory Protection

The best way to prevent costly injuries is to promote safe work practices, provide the necessary PPE, and do everything possible to encourage wearer compliance.

  1. You painstakingly identified all the hazards in your workplace.
  2. You consulted each of the relevant safety standards and OSHA regulations.
  3. You implemented a comprehensive personal protective equipment (PPE) program and made sure every employee was supplied with the necessary gear and trained on how to use it properly. Everything went great for about a week. And then employees started wearing their PPE incorrectly, or even skipping it altogether.

What went wrong?

Why Compliance is Essential
When employees wear their PPE incorrectly or forgo it entirely, they put themselves at risk. There are countless devastating headlines to remind us of the tragedies that can occur in the workplace if safety hazards are not addressed responsibly. And even something as simple as rolling up the sleeves of a flame-resistant (FR) shirt and leaving the arms unprotected can have serious consequences.

Beyond the tragedy of human injury and loss, workplace accidents can be incredibly costly financially. For example, a single burn injury can cost a company millions of dollars in OSHA fines, hospital fees, legal costs, increased insurance premiums, reputation damage, and lost productivity. While some of these costs may not apply if the injury is truly a result of noncompliance and the employer is not at fault, there are no guarantees.

The best way to prevent costly injuries is to promote safe work practices, provide the necessary PPE, and do everything possible to encourage wearer compliance.

Barriers to Compliance
There are numerous reasons employees may not wear their PPE compliantly. One of the most obvious reasons is that PPE is uncomfortable. When PPE doesn’t fit well, isn’t appropriate for the weather conditions, or is made from materials that cause irritation, employees are much more likely to skip wearing it, or at least make unsafe modifications to it in an attempt to alleviate discomfort.

In addition to discomfort, forgetfulness can contribute to non-compliance. And the more PPE items an employee has to wear to achieve adequate protection, the more likely it is that one of those items will slip his or her mind. For example, if an employee working in a laboratory has to remember to put on a separate chemical barrier apron over the lab coat he is already wearing before performing certain tasks, he may get caught up in his work and neglect to put on the additional layer of protective gear.

Of course, even if employees do remember all of the layers of protective equipment they need, the inconvenience of having to put on and take off multiple items may deter them from wearing all of the necessary PPE.

As employees begin to regularly neglect PPE, regardless of the reasons for their initial non-compliance, it can lead to the normalization of deviance—the tendency for behaviors that were once considered unacceptable to become commonplace and seemingly permissible. Normalization of deviance is a result of complacency. Employees may recognize a hazard exists, but because they’ve performed a given task many times without an accident, it becomes tempting for them to skip putting on the necessary protection. To make matters worse, newer workers may see veterans forgo PPE and think they can do the same. Pretty soon, noncompliance becomes the new workplace culture.

Fortunately, strategic PPE selection can go a long way toward encouraging compliance. And there are a few basic considerations that can help you make more effective PPE choices.

Stay tuned for part 2 coming next week!

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