Each year more than 2.9 million employees are injured at work, with more than 13,000 on-the-job injuries in Hawaii alone. Many of these injuries could have been prevented with the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). While PPE doesn’t eliminate all workplace hazards, it does significantly reduce the risk of injury.
Understanding Personal Protective Equipment
To ensure the highest level of protection for employees in the workplace, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide protective equipment for the eyes, face, head, and extremities. This includes protective clothing, respiratory devices, and protective shields. Employers are required to analyze worksites and determine potential hazards. Depending on the hazard, employers must purchase equipment and train all staff and employees on proper use and maintenance.
Related: How Much PPE Do Hawaii Employers Have to Provide?
Tips on Promoting Use of Personal Protective Equipment
Despite the legal requirements of PPE, enforcing its use can be a challenge for many employers. Here are four ways to encourage the use of personal protective equipment in order to create a safer workplace.
1. Lead by Example
Leadership must set the example. If managers and supervisors are seen unwilling to wear personal protective equipment, employees will feel likewise. Explain to the management team that they need to wear their gear at all times and take time to encourage employees to wear it as well. By creating a culture that obeys safety rules, your employees are more likely to follow suit.
2. Provide Training
OSHA requires employers to train all employees on when PPE is necessary; what types of PPE are needed in each work area; how to properly put on, take off, and adjust the equipment; and how to perform proper care and maintenance. Give formal training sessions to all new and existing employees. Offer refresher courses every year to keep safety top of mind.
3. Address Complaints and Suggestions
If personal protective equipment is uncomfortable, employees are more likely not to use it, especially if they just need to do a simple, quick task. Ask for feedback on preferences of brands, colors, or models from the people that use the gear most frequently. Workers are more likely to use something they pick themselves. If a particular item is uncomfortable, work with them to find a version they like and are willing to wear.
4. Enforce Policies
It only takes one instance of not using PPE for an injury to occur. Whether the employee will be in a hazardous area for five minutes or five hours, they must have the right gear on. Post signs in areas where PPE is needed and make sure it states what type of gear should be worn. Determine what the consequences will be for improper use or lack of use—from disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. Under OSHA regulations, employers have the right to discipline an employee who violates safety rules, even if the violator is already injured. Managers should monitor for compliance daily. If a worker’s safety is compromised while not using PPE due to lack of enforcement, your company could be liable for the injury.
Promoting a safe work environment is crucial to reducing workplace injuries and fatalities. While you cannot prevent every incident, you can drastically reduce the risk of injury by rethinking your strategy on getting employees to wear personal protective equipment.
If balancing regulation and risk management seems like a full-time job, you’d be right. Here at ALTRES, we’ve developed a Safety and Risk Management Department dedicated solely to helping clients manage workplace safety and prevent risk. Our team offers a variety of consultation services that can help your business remain compliant with both state and federal regulations.