Why Workers Avoid PPE & What You Can Do About It

Personal Protection Equipment, or PPE, is both a necessity and a major hurdle for many workplaces. PPE keeps workers safe and usually covers things like hard hats, safety vests, safety goggles or glasses, headphones, and gloves (thought it is certainly not limited to this list). The biggest problem with PPE is compliance, far and away; there will always be workers who refuse to wear or come up with excuses to not wear their equipment. Some of these complaints may seem more tangible and valid than others, but it’s important to know how to deal with all of them. Let’s categorize some of the reasons for complaints and then take a look at how you can address each one.

“I just forgot…”

As much as 34% of respondents to a survey asking about the most common excuses managers get for employees not wearing their PPE said that employees said they simply forgot. This is a bit of a tricky one to start out with, because, as you’ll see in a minute, many of the other categories have easier solutions.

Response: The best thing you can do here is make very clear, and then enforce, a number boundary for the amount of times “forgetting” will be an acceptable excuse within a certain period of time before disciplinary action is taken. This lets workers know exactly what is expected and, if this excuse is a cover for one of the other issues below, they will be more likely to bring up the real reason if they know they could be fired or reprimanded if they forget just one more time.

“It’s not comfortable/It doesn’t fit right…”

This type of excuse came up 30% of the time in the survey, and with good reason. For many, comfort is a valid concern and if things don’t fit right or make an employee uncomfortable or distracted on the job, they could be doing more harm than good. It is also worth noting that some workers don’t like the look of certain equipment (a bulky hat or pair of goggles, for example) and will use fit or comfort as an excuse to not wear them.

Response: You’re going to need to invest some time in getting this part right, because if employees aren’t comfortable in their gear, compliance will continue to suffer. A good solution is to get a group of employees, including those who may have used this excuse for their non-compliance in the past, and try a number of different fits and styles of PPE. For example, if employees in a lumberyard are required to use safety glasses or goggles when using the saw, have this test group see which glasses or goggles are the most comfortable and fit the best. Because all workers are different, you may need to get several different sizes and/or styles to find the right balance. It’s worth it, however, as this is one of the easier ways to improve PPE compliance.

“I didn’t know I needed to…”

Often times, workers will respond that they were unaware that they needed to wear PPE or follow safety procedures, passing the buck to their higher ups.

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Response: It’s as simple as a piece of paper: When training or instruction on the use of safety gear is administered, have each employee sign a piece of paper saying he has been informed. This way there will be no question as to whether the employee knew or not. If the excuse is still used, it will be up to management to take disciplinary action.

“I didn’t have time…”

Even if it only takes a few seconds to put on gloves, this excuse comes up a lot. The issue you have here is that production is being valued higher than safety. The phrase “Safety is number one” shouldn’t be an empty refrain.

Response: Make sure employees know that work does not start until safety is taken care of. They should understand that, while efficiency is important, they get paid for their time putting on safety equipment as well, and it should take precedent over shaving off a few seconds of production.

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