Even though organizations are increasing their safety-compliance programs, preventable workplace incidents continue to occur.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 5,000 fatal work injuries are reported in the U.S. each year. Overall, according to the National Safety Council, an injury-related death occurs in less time than it takes to drink your morning coffee —roughly every three minutes of every day.
Guidelines set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) help companies protect workers from hazardous substances, situations and environments. The most important safety protections your company can implement are either eliminating the safety risk itself, or replacing the circumstances in which workers encounter possible harm. The next methods include establishing engineering and administrative controls to isolate workers from dangers, or change work processes.
If the previous steps don’t remediate all safety issues entirely, personal protective equipment (PPE) is the last line of defense. It’s the last safety item in the hierarchy of controls to consider and use.
However, don’t forget PPE as a potential control when appropriate. Research shows PPE should still be top of mind in protecting workers. For the second consecutive year, OSHA listed PPE as one of its Top 10 Most Cited Violations, previously unseen on the list for more than 10 years. What’s more, in the shipping industry, seafarers face the highest rates of workplace injury and death. One study sought to discover some of the causes. It concluded that PPE availability has the greatest potential to reduce the probability of injury.
How can you improve your workplace with PPE? Most programs that follow OSHA guidelines consist of risk assessment, PPE selection, training and documentation.
OSHA first requires the organization to assess the safety risks of the workplace, including potential hazards that may emerge from existing processes and practices. The assessment should identify which workers are most likely to encounter dangers. These assessments are required to be documented, along with notification of potential safety risks.
After you conclude the risk assessment on PPE, the organization selects the appropriate PPE for its employees for the right situations. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work. PPE needs for someone working with chemicals is different than those of welders fitting pipes together. The equipment has to provide maximum protection and be customized for the work performed. In many instances, it needs to be certified to protect against the hazard.
Some primary factors in selecting PPE include proper fit, comfort, and avoiding the creation of additional safety issues (such as restricting visibility or mobility of the user). Regular health checkups are required to ensure that employees can use PPE correctly and safely.
Employers must also provide PPE at their expense with signed proof of delivery of the equipment.
PPE can’t be just delivered to the worker to be effective. Training on its purpose, use and maintenance is required. Train workers on when and where to use PPE, including maintenance and disposal, and the limitations of the protection. Workers should be able to demonstrate proper use and maintenance prior to completion of training. Retraining is needed because people lose 50-80% of learned information within just two days. You should also consider the training and retraining of temporary or contract workers, since they can change frequently.
Documentation of all steps associated with assessing risks, the type of PPE provided, and the training conducted are all legally required. Specifically, your records must include not only the hazard assessments but also the reasoning behind how you manage the identified risks. You must show the PPE provided, why it was provided, and how it will be stored, including plans for replenishment.
Two factors make PPE compliance in the supply chain even more challenging: at least 20% of the workforce consists of contractors, with projections reaching 50% percent in the next 10 years; and only 28% of companies are digitizing their supply chain operations. Other surveys show that at least half of companies are still using paper or spreadsheets to track compliance, methods most survey respondents say are very ineffective.
Both homegrown and vendor-based systems can leverage technology to help companies digitize their supply chains. Digitizing your supply-chain operations can give you greater visibility into both qualified employees and contracted workers. With these systems, companies see the complete picture of safety procedures. They can immediately see gaps in PPE compliance, so that you can address them quickly and directly, saving time and money.
These services help define your company and job requirements, along with analyzing training and documentation. Input that information into a supplier prequalification service, so that you can determine which company or even which worker is authorized to complete which job. Combine your specific key performance indicators (KPIs), such as Days Away, Restricted or Transferred (DART), or Total Reportable Incident Rate (TRIR), with your prequalification system, and you can see how those efforts impact KPIs.
While PPE may not be the most impactful method in the safety hierarchy, it should not be lost or forgotten. PPE is still vital for individual safety, which directly impacts employee and company well-being. Make sure your workplace has completed the appropriate risk assessments, PPE evaluation and training, and documentation to ensure that your workers are safe. These actions support not only organizations’ revenue targets, but also their higher mission-driven goals of sustainability and making a positive impact in their communities.
Danny Shields is vice president of industry relations at Avetta.
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