Widespread, and growing, failure to wear necessary safety equipment—especially eye protection—has become the No.1 workplace concern of safety professionals.
A “shockingly high” 98 percent of respondents who attended the recent American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) show in Baltimore said they had observed workers not wearing safety equipment when they should have been, according to a survey conducted during the show.
Three in 10 safety professionals said they had seen noncompliance on “numerous occasions.” Every respondent cited worker noncompliance with personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols as the top workplace safety issue.
The findings show a marked acceleration of a consistent trend reported in previous surveys at the National Safety Council (NSC) Congress. Those surveys also found high levels of noncompliance with PPE protocols -- 89 percent in 2008, 87 percent in 2007, and 85 percent in 2006.
In the ASSE survey, three-quarters of respondents said that workplace accidents and injuries were the issue “most likely to keep [them] up at night.” Potential exposure because of noncompliance with PPE protocols was second, at 13 percent; fear of a global pandemic and its impact on the workforce was third, at 8 percent.
"Increasingly high noncompliance with PPE protocols is an alarming trend and a serious threat to worker health and safety," said Gina Tsiropoulos, manufacturing segment marketing manager for Kimberly-Clark Professional, which sponsored both the ASSE and NSC surveys.
Eye Protection ‘Most Challenging’
Eye protection was found to be the "most challenging" PPE category, according to 42 percent of respondents. Those results were disturbing, but not surprising, ASSE said, as nearly three in five workers who suffer eye injuries on the job were either not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident or were wearing the wrong kind.
About 2,000 U.S. workers each day suffer job-related eye injuries that require medical treatment, and thousands are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries that could have been prevented, according to ASSE.
Hearing protection was the second-greatest challenge, the ASSE respondents said, followed by gloves and head protection.
While the reasons for noncompliance varied, the biggest complaint—cited by 40% of respondents—was that the equipment was "uncomfortable." That was followed by complaints about it being too hot, not available near the work task, poorly fitting or unattractive.
Asked what they had done or intended to do to improve compliance, the respondents’ top choice was to improve education and training programs. This was followed by:
• Increased monitoring of employees
• Purchasing more comfortable PPE
• Tying compliance to individual performance evaluations
• Purchasing more stylish PPE
• Developing incentive programs to encourage greater compliance
The Supplier’s Role
Asked how suppliers could improve their PPE offerings, the top response was to make the products more comfortable. That was followed by:
• Providing more instruction on the proper use of PPE
• Reducing prices
• Expanding size selection
• Offering more stylish PPE
Fit, comfort and style topped the priorities for future PPE products; 87% said that customizable styles and designs would help increase compliance.
Forty-two percent of respondents said they would like to see PPE that automatically adjusts to fit different body types, hands, heads, faces and so on. Customizable styles and designs came second, cited by 32 percent of respondents. Third, cited by 15%, was equipment designed with integrated climate-control features that provide cooling or warmth.
The survey of 132 attendees was conducted online between June 9 and 13. All respondents said they were responsible for purchasing, selecting or influencing the purchase or selection of personal protective equipment (PPE) or industrial wiping solutions in a variety of industries. Ninety percent were safety directors or managers; the rest were industrial hygienists, facilities or general managers, or held other positions.