One of the most frequent sounds heard by people recommending or dispensing workplace personal protective equipment is, "Do I have to wear this?" OTB Products provide suggestions to make the equipment agreeable to workers.
Whether the equipment is required by State or Federal Occupational Health and Safety regulation, or voluntarily distributed to avoid costly lawsuits and shield workers from injury, one of the major obstacles for PPE use is worker compliance. Supervisors are "multi-tasked" to the point where they no longer have the time to keep an eye on workers. Training in the proper use of PPE and explanations about why it is necessary may be neglected or spotty.
There are reasons why people resist PPE, and practical ways to approach the problem. Once the type of PPE needed has been established, and the list has been narrowed to products with the documentation and proven reliability to do what's been deemed necessary, compliance hurdles can be considered. There will always be employees who don't wear their PPE, and there will always be PPE that is too hot, too stiff, too bulky and too heavy.
If it doesn’t fit, they just won’t wear it: When it comes to PPE (personal protective equipment), fit means function. If workers are uncomfortable in their gear, they will either "forget" to put it on, wear it incorrectly, or be irritable and inefficient while wearing it. Employees, who are able to try on various sizes and immediately compare fit and comfort, are more likely to end up with the correct size.
It's so bulky (restrictive, hot, cold): The features that allow PPE to provide protection are often features that make it uncomfortable. Even if it fits correctly, it can be annoying to wear. The protective gear by its very nature is designed to keep certain substances out, often keeping the wearer's body heat and moisture in.
Simple alterations in a work environment can make compliance much more agreeable. Accessible temperature controls, additional fans, "step-out" areas, convenient shelves, lockers, and clothing hooks can make finding and getting in and out of equipment, as well as wearing it, faster and therefore easier. Equipment that is taken on and off by workers when briefly passing through hazardous areas must be immediately and constantly available, because it is easier to go without it than go and get it, which leads to another compliance issue: consistent and unwavering enforcement of equipment use.
Safety rules: If the sign reads "Eye protection required beyond this point" or "Hard Hat Area," then everyone setting a toe into the area must don the proper equipment. No exceptions allowed.
Let employees in on the decision: Consider offering each employee a choice between two or three styles of each item, especially unisized products, which will require only a minimum of extra paperwork and little or no additional storage space. Choices need not be as complicated as completely different products. Even different fabric or strap colors, or different storage cases, can make employees more receptive to their equipment. Picking out their own PPE gives workers a personal investment in and a responsibility toward their equipment, if only because it is the item they chose for themselves. Labeling PPE with the user's name, even if it is worn for a short time by temporary workers, increases his or her stake in the product. Labeling is quick and easy with laundry markers, sticky tags or a tagging gun.
There is nothing wrong with my PPE: Appearance is probably the main reason people pull off certain types of PPE, or resist wearing medically issued PPE designed to help protect or heal an injury. Most personal protective equipment was not created with appearance in mind.
Safety eyewear and shoe suppliers are introducing stylish selections and items bearing sports, and brand logos that add to consumer appeal and boost employee compliance are now available. Ergonomic design and safety effectiveness cannot be sacrificed for fashion, but they can be included in more flattering styles.
Let them know you care about their safety: Connecting employee commendations and awards to PPE reinforces the idea that the equipment is part of a uniform, rather than an "extra" piece of clothing. Pins, stickers, embroidered patches, key rings and small tags can be purchased with simple, universal messages or custom made with a company logo and an appropriate phrase.
Small items handed out at yearly anniversaries, pinned to, stuck on or wrapped around the recipient's PPE create a portable display of experience and seniority. PPE travelling from employee to employee does not lend itself to personal labeling, but stickers on a hard hat, pins on the shoulder straps of a back support, patches on protective garments, a specially-printed retainer strap for safety glasses, and small tags on ear muffs link the award with the equipment.
Methods for getting employees into and keeping them in personal protective equipment are probably as varied as workers themselves. Allowing wearers to make some of the decisions about their equipment, and assuring their gear is as comfortable, familiar, personal and habitual as donning their own socks, is certainly preferable to cornering recalcitrant employees and demanding they wear equipment or face disciplinary action.
Proper training, demonstrations of equipment use, and information about wearing it correctly combined with a realistic understanding about attitudes toward equipment, can help defuse many objections to a necessary discomfort.