You would think anyone in their right mind would gladly wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when performing dangerous tasks. However, plenty of workers don’t. They put themselves at risk of injury or death and their employers at risk of prosecution.
We all know that PPE can be an effective last line of protection. But how often do you see workers not wearing PPE?
Not wearing PPE can result in severe injury or death. In 2015-16 there were 144 fatalities in the workplace and some 621,000 non-fatal injuries.
PPE such as hard hats, goggles, gloves and boots play a vital role in managing Health & Safety risks. However, historical data shows many workers suffering injury were not wearing PPE.
Health & Safety Executive figures show there are around 9,000 PPE related incidents each year.
What’s going on?
PPE can prevent or reduce the risk of eye, head or bodily injury from all manner of activities, often those that you might think are low risk, but especially when handling chemicals and dangerous substances or from working with machinery and tools.
Unfortunately, history shows the PPE that employers provide is often not worn.
Why do workers take risks?
The HSE says that failure to use provided protected clothing costs around £65m and that the underlying causes include:
- Little/no supervision
- Lack of procedure
- Poor awareness/risk perception
- Human error/misjudgement
Although workers sometimes refuse to wear PPE on religious or health grounds, most refusals are due to poor management, communication and training. If workers do not understand why PPE is needed or have no say in choosing it, they are more likely to not use it.
What steps can employers take?
Employees should know why PPE is needed and trained to use it correctly.
Employers must make sure workers are aware of the dangers of not using PPE. They need to be educated in order to buy into the idea that it should be worn. Indeed, education on the risks of injury and training on the use of PPE can change the attitudes and practices that lead to injury.
When faced with workers who refuse to use the provided gear, you need to pin them down on their objections:
- Is it uncomfortable to wear?
- Is it too heavy?
- Does it restrict movement?
Good communication, effective consultation, better training and reasonable adjustment is often enough to head off objections. While workers often complain PPE “gets in the way”, this feeling can be overcome if it fits well, is comfortable, of good quality and does not prevent them from seeing or moving.
What about refusal on religious or other grounds?
The law is clear: the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 contains no exemptions from using or wearing PPE on religious, medical or other grounds.
The best-known example of Personal Protective Equipment clashing with religious belief involves turban-wearing Sikhs. While the Employment Act 1989 says they don’t have to wear head protection, the exception only applies to construction sites.
If your workers refuse to wear the required clothing, they should be re-deployed to a less dangerous job or area, or if necessary disciplined. Indeed, disobeying safety instructions should be at least as serious as another rule breaking. Contractual terms and conditions should treat failure to follow reasonable Health & Safety instructions as potential gross misconduct.
Good communication helps avoid conflict.
Problems often arise when employers try to make employees use PPE without first consulting them. If you insist “workers wear this…” then their likely attitude will be “why should I?”
By contrast, employers normally see a big drop in incidents when workers are engaged and:
- Consulted on the best Personal Protective Equipment
- Educated on why it’s needed
- Given input on its use
Contact Ellis Whittam to make sure your workers are safely suited and booted!