For the second year in a row, a survey of safety professionals has found that noncompliance with personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols continues to be an issue in the workplace.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents said they had observed workers failing to wear PPE when they should have been, according to a survey of attendees at the 2007 National Safety Council (NSC) Congress, conducted by Kimberly-Clark Professional.  Eighty-five percent of safety professionals answered yes to the same question in a survey undertaken by Kimberly-Clark Professional at the 2006 NSC Congress.

“Despite the undisputed need for PPE when undertaking hazardous tasks, people continue to risk bodily harm by failing to protect themselves,” said Randy Kates, general manager of the safety business for Kimberly-Clark Professional.  “In this survey, we not only asked why people did not comply with PPE protocols, but what could be done to alter these behaviors.”

The main “why” was “uncomfortable” PPE, according to 62 percent of respondents who had observed noncompliance in the workplace.  This was followed by:  workers thinking PPE was not necessary for the task, PPE was “too hot,” PPE fits poorly, or was “unattractive looking.”
So it’s not surprising that when asked “what” could be improved about the PPE they were currently purchasing, three quarters of survey respondents said they would make it “more comfortable.”  Safety professionals also gave the nod to more fashionable PPE.  Eighty-four percent said that they would be more apt to purchase fashionable and attractive PPE if workers would be more likely to wear it and the price was comparable to what they were currently paying for similar products.
Off-the-Job Safety Programs
At a time when workplace deaths are on the decline but injuries and deaths in the home have risen, 59 percent of safety professionals said they had programs in place to promote at-home safety.  Another 28 percent said they had plans to create this type of program in the future.
Of those with existing safety programs, 68 percent said the offerings consisted of training programs or providing training materials on off-the-job or at-home safety.  Forty-four percent said they encouraged employees to take home company-provided PPE and 16 percent said they have incentive programs for staying safe off-the-job as well as on.  Ten percent said they allow employees to borrow high-priced safety equipment, such as gas detection equipment, for home use.
Green Issues Take Center Stage
The survey also explored the effect of environmental considerations on purchasing PPE and other personal safety products. Here, the verdict was nearly unanimous.  Ninety-four percent of respondents said environmental considerations and reducing the impact on the environment were important to them.  Sixty-four percent ranked these as “very important,” while 20 percent described them as “somewhat important.”  Ten percent said environmental factors were “increasingly important now,” as compared to a few years ago.

When it comes to green purchases, the top consideration was buying products made with recycled materials. Next was the ability to reuse or recycle products after use.  Source-reduced products and packaging and a manufacturer’s overall commitment to the environment were nearly tied for third place. These were followed by:
• Purchasing from one supplier to reduce energy costs resulting from the transport of supplies from different sources.
• Products that are shipped in biodegradable packages with as little packaging material as possible.
• Products manufactured in a “carbon neutral” facility.

The survey also addressed another environmental issue, by asking respondents to choose between two types of industrial wiping products: A recycled cloth towel that is laundered and reused, releasing chemicals and metal contaminants in the wastewater of industrial laundries.  Or a disposable paper or paper/polymer wiping product that is discarded into a landfill after use.  Fifty-six percent said they would choose the disposable wiper.  Twenty-seven percent selected the laundered towel.  Seventeen percent said they did not know which product they would pick.
Health and Safety Concerns
Respondents were also asked whether they were concerned about the potential health and safety issues faced by their workers as a result of exposure to oil, grease, heavy metal residues or other toxic elements on re-usable rental shop towels.  Nearly three-quarters voiced concern, with 44 percent of these respondents saying they were “very concerned.”  Twenty-three percent said they were not concerned.
Survey Methodology
The survey was undertaken at the NSC Congress in Chicago on October 16, 2007.  The survey questionnaires were filled out by 197 safety professionals who reported being responsible for purchasing, selecting or influencing the purchase or selection of, or compliance with, PPE.  Respondents were from the following fields:  industrial manufacturing, construction, hazmat, emergency response, clean manufacturing, laboratories and science, health care, transportation, law enforcement and government.  For full survey results, click here.