Getting Workers to Wear PPE
Why do some workers still resist sometimes when they are told they have to wear PPE? There have been studies to show that wearing personal protective equipment will keep them safe, and at the very least on most job sites, it is required. Yet every so often you meet a worker who does not wear PPE or does not wear it properly. This is both frustrating to supervisors and could be costly, both in terms of an accident and financially because of administrative penalties in Nova Scotia. Getting workers to wear PPE needs to be a priority of education and discipline for companies.
Reasons for Not Wearing PPE
When a worker does not wear his (it is mostly men on this one) it could be for three reasons: it will interfere with their ability to do the work, it is uncomfortable/doesn’t fit, religious beliefs, or they feel they don’t need it/ “it won’t happen to me”. Gloves are the best example of when I hear that wearing PPE will affect the workers ability to do a task. Bulky gloves, such as typical leather work gloves, are bulky and can make it difficult to do anything that requires fine work. Hand protection, however, should never be overlooked. In this case, the solution is easy, if not necessarily cheap: buy gloves that meet the safety requirements of the job but can also allow the worker to use his/her fingers more easily.
Safety glasses are another example of PPE that workers may take off while working because it interferes with trying to do work. Glasses steaming up or getting scratched makes it hard to see. This is actually a weak excuse, since the company can buy anti-fog spray and extra pairs of safety glasses. It does persist, and a supervisor should keep these two solutions in mind
Uncomfortable safety gear is caused by a number of reasons. One is that it doesn’t fit. Safety harnesses and high visibility vest can be the hardest thing to try to fit sometimes. Different companies have different sizes for their product. A large from one manufacturer may not go up to the size of the worker, even at the limit of the straps. When purchasing, don’t go with a one size fits all mentality. Workers who are taller or heavier will need a larger size. Smaller workers must also be accommodated. Check the sizing chart that comes with the harness to ensure that what you buy is what will work.
Some workers don’t wear PPE because of religious reasons. Sikhs have refused to wear hard hats because they can’t cover their turban. Also, their beards make it hard to wear a respirator. There are respirators you can buy that can cover a beard so that no longer remains an issue. Regarding hard hats and turbans, we are still searching for a compromise that will work for all involved.
The most dangerous reason for not wearing PPE is the idea that it “won’t happen to me”. I worked with a guy who lost an eye because of this attitude. There are many examples, from more than just the workplace. We see people being ejected from their cars for not wearing seatbelt. Professional hockey players being hit in the face because they won’t put a face shield on their helmets. Student in a martial arts class who gets struck in the groin repeatedly but still won’t wear a cup. In all these cases outside work we can see the results, but still we hear that it won’t happen to me, or it won’t happen again. The only way to deal with workers who won’t change their mind set is through discipline. Using progressive discipline to at least punish the worker might get them to put PPE on, if for no other reason than to not lose his job.
Improperly Wearing PPE
Fall protection equipment is the best example of workers not wearing their gear properly. I wrote up one guy who had his straps too loose to do any good if he had fallen. Sometimes they more wear the strap too tight, which if can cut off their circulation. The other occasion where workers don’t wear their equipment properly is hard hats. The suspension system in a hard hat is meant to be worn with the ratchet in the back. In some cases, such as welder’s shield, the hat brim does need to face behind. This however means you readjust the way the suspension system is positioned on the shell, not just flipping the hard hat around like a baseball cap.
This is where training comes in. Getting workers to wear PPE properly needs to be built into the training of new staff, and as a refresher for existing staff. From the previously mentioned hard hats and harnesses to respirators, it is important that if a worker has a piece of PPE that needs to be worn that they know how to wear it properly.
Personal Protective Equipment saves lives and prevents injury, yet some workers still won’t wear their PPE. Getting workers to wear PPE and to wear it right needs to be a priority for management and supervisors. By using training so workers know how to select, wear and care for their equipment, and discipline on those occasions when a worker is not following the requirements on the job site, we can hope to increase the number of workers wearing PPE and decrease the number of injuries and deaths from workplace accidents.