PPE – Let’s Get it On

One of the greatest hassles for all employees is the requirement to wear items of personal protective equipment.  Excuses include such things as “it’s uncomfortable” or “it doesn’t fit” or “it makes me look stupid” or “I have difficulty performing my job with it on” or you fill in the blank “……………………………………………………………” 

Sound familiar?  And as you well know from experience, if it is that much of a hassle for them then it is even more of a hassle for supervisors – their parent figure at work!  

Unfortunately, the use of PPE is necessary for some tasks even after all other methods of hazard control have been applied.  It then is a must, have to, absolute, job requirement, etc. and if the individual employee does not accept this as his/her responsibility then the supervisor must enforce its use.  There’s the hassle. 

Regardless of the type of PPE necessary, there is one FACT that is true in all situations.  The hazard is still present and the employee is still exposed to that hazard.  The only thing protecting that employee from injury is the proper use of the appropriate PPE.  This is when your leadership skills as a supervisor are put to the test.  You must ensure that the appropriate PPE is worn appropriately! 

Before discussing some possible solutions, it’s important to understand that the best method of control is always to remove the hazard entirely. Since this may not always be possible, here are some guidelines for applying safety controls in a preferred order of priority – from most effective to least effective:

? Remove the hazard at the source – get rid of the piece of equipment, the material or work procedure that presents the hazard.

? Substitute the equipment or process with a less hazardous one.

? Isolate the hazard – relocate it away from people.

? Add safeguards – such as safety barriers or screens.

? Adopt a safer procedure. Consider improved safety training and supervision.

? If there are still risks, provide suitable PPE, and make sure it is used.     

As a supervisor you are probably saying to yourself…”Yea right, I can’t do anything on this list.  This is management’s responsibility.”  But, you occupy that KEY position in the organization that funnels information (complaints, suggestions, etc.) from the front line worker up to management.  Your employees know more about their site specific workplace hazards than anyone else.  Your responsibility is to get this information to management so corrective action can be implemented.  Now read the list above one more time and look closely at the last two bullets.  These activities occur after YOU have provided management with information regarding the workplace hazards and YOU have direct responsibility for the implementation of these actions.   

So after all has been done to eliminate or control the hazard the requirement exists for employees to wear PPE.  Now the supervisory challenge becomes getting employees to wear their PPE.  Consider these three simple recommendations – educate, involve and enforce.     

Educate

Actually, this process includes both educating employees and training employees.  They need to be educated regarding workplace hazards and how personal protective equipment will protect them from injury.  They also need to be trained on the proper use and maintenance of assigned PPE.  For example, employees may not understand the concept of flash burn from welding, or the fact that some chemicals do not have any warning properties (smell, irritation, color, etc.) or how and why hearing loss occurs.  In addition, they may not know how to conduct a positive and negative pressure check on a respirator or how to properly insert ear plugs.  Informing your employees about the workplace hazards and how to properly utilize PPE is YOUR responsibility.  Incidentally, an educated, informed employee is a better employee. 

Involve

One of the basic human needs is to feel valued.  This is true at the workplace just as it is in one’s personal life.  One effective method of validating your employees’ value is to involve them in the decision making process.  This does not mean that you are surrendering your authority and responsibility as a supervisor; instead, it means that you are incorporating more “brain power” in the process.  Most often this leads to better decisions.  But it also has a secondary benefit.  Your employees will support the decision, even if it varies from their input, simply because they felt valued when you solicited their input.  What does this have to do with PPE?  Everything!  If you don’t get them involved in the selection process, then you will spend the rest of your life trying to get them to wear their PPE. 

Enforce

This is the tough one, but that is why you get paid more.  Policies and rules are developed and written for a reason.  If employees understand the reasoning (educate) and have had the opportunity to participate in the process (involve) then they will most likely follow the rules.  However, some may not and that is when YOU enforce the rules.  Consistent and fair enforcement will result in the eventual development of a PPE culture in the organization.  Employees will internalize the fact that “this is the way we do things around here.”

By the way, have you ever known anyone who sustained hearing loss, vision impairment, severe dermatitis or any other injury as the result of not properly wearing the appropriate PPE?  Did you know their supervisor?  Was it YOU?

PPE – let’s get it on!