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Safety Management Insights

Investing In the Right Personal Protective Equipment

Posted by Don Brown on Sep 20, 2016 8:30:00 AM

civil-engineer-construction-site.jpgOSHA regulations and the safety initiatives that have risen around them have made a major impact on the number of worker deaths in the last four decades. Worker deaths in the United States are down, on average, from about 38 deaths per day in 1970 to 13 in 2014. What’s more, injuries and illnesses are down from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 to just 3.3 per 100 in 2014.

That said, there is still plenty of room for improvement, particularly in construction and other risky industries: 4,821 workers were killed on the job in 2014, 3.4 per 100,000. That may not sound like a high number, but even one death is one too many, and there are plenty of ways for employers to further improve safety at their most dangerous worksites.

One of the best ways to improve safety is to continually upgrade and replace workers’ personal protective equipment (PPE). OSHA already requires that several categories of PPE meet minimum standards developed by the American Standards Institute, but you can go above and beyond by keeping up with the latest innovations. Here are a few of the newest PPE trends that could help you achieve the coveted zero incident goal.

Growing Investment

The global PPE market is expected to rise from $37.35 billion in 2015 to $56.05 billion in 2021, according to Market Research Store. This growth spurt is driven in large part by technological advances and rising awareness around workplace safety. While the United States has seen a significant and growing focus on safety for the last 40 years, foreign industrialization, investment and regulation may well fuel the PPE market of tomorrow. Growing oil and gas industries in Canada, the United States and the Middle East are likewise expected to fuel demand.

Comfort and Style

While function is certainly more important than form, today’s workers don’t want to sacrifice comfort and style for protection. According to MDS Associates, only 16 percent of workers who sustained head injuries wear hard hats, just 23 percent of employees with foot injuries wear safety shoes or boots, and just 1 percent of workers who suffered face injuries wear face protection. What’s more, 99 percent of noise-induced hearing loss is preventable with proper hearing protection, and 90 percent of workplace eye injuries are preventable with proper eyewear.

With stats like these, why aren’t more workers taking advantage of employer-provided PPE? The top-cited reasons are that it looks unattractive, it’s too hot, it doesn’t fit right and it’s not easily accessible. Almost all workers also report seeing their peers avoiding the appropriate use of PPE for these reasons.

Ultimately, if safety is your goal, you’re going to need to comply. Less stylish and even sturdier PPE may seem to be a more practical, cost-effective purchase, but if your workers won’t wear it, you’ll still lose time and money to preventable accidents. If this trend is any indication, it’s worth the money to purchase sleek-looking, unencumbering PPE that can be adjusted to fit each individual employee.

Worker Preferences

Similarly, many workers have specific tastes for their PPE. Greg Schrab, Ergodyne senior vice president of operations and product management, told Safety and Health Magazine, “One of the biggest recent trends is employees’ desire to be provided with workday safety gear that performs to the level of their ‘weekend gear.’ … A worker who likes to hunt, fish or ski is familiar with the best in moisture-wicking, breathable fabrics, as well as comfortable compression fit gear.” These high-tech PPE may seem unnecessarily expensive, but if they’re the ticket to a significant reduction in work-related accidents, their purchase could more than pay off in the future.

Sustainability

From paperless offices to reduced carbon emissions, companies in nearly every industry are shifting to more sustainable practices. PPE manufacturers and distributors are no exception. According to 3M’s Safety Outlook and Trends Report, future manufacturers will shift from materials derived from fossil sources to biopolymers and natural fibers, such as hemp and linen.

The Need for Training

PPE requires training—regardless of its complexity. Brad Witt, Honeywell director of hearing conservation, even said, “Simply handing out earplugs does not necessarily stop OSHA-recordable noise-induced hearing loss. The trend has definitely moved from ‘wear it’ to ‘wear it correctly’—and then verifying that correct fit.” From hardhats to hazmat suits, every piece of equipment your workers use can be used either correctly or incorrectly. As a safety manager, it’s up to you and your team to ensure your workers know exactly how to use the latest and greatest PPE your company provides.

Do you need help keeping track of your company’s PPE? Not sure whether your incidents are the result of PPE misuse, undetected hazards or another issue entirely? To get a better handle on which improvements will yield the greatest safety outcomes at your company, contact us today for a free demo of our comprehensive safety software suite.

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