Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is a vital part of many tasks in construction and beyond. The human body is not naturally equipped for many of the tasks we undertake at work. Using PPE means we can carry out these tasks without exposing ourselves to unnecessary risk.
Though employers should make an effort to minimise and mitigate risks as much as possible, sometimes the use of PPE is unavoidable.
In every developed country globally, including the UK, businesses are legally required to provide the correct PPE, and workers are expected to wear it and make use of it. Despite this, too many workers neglect to use it at all. The question is, why? And what can you do to tackle it?
What does the law say?
The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Act 1994 states: ‘Every employer shall ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to his employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health or safety while at work except where and to the extent that such risk has been adequately controlled by other means which are equally or more effective.’
It’s a quite clear cut that employers have a responsibility to provide that PPE where needed, alongside identifying and mitigating risks with other methods such as safety equipment and risk assessments. But are workers legally required to wear it?
The Health and Safety at Work Act states that workers are required to:
- Take reasonable care of their own health and safety, as well as that of others.
- Cooperate with employers on health and safety
- Correctly use work items provided by their employer.
- Not interfere with any equipment provided.
The law is clear then. But well-intentioned legislation very rarely survives contact with the day to day without solid health and safety management. All the world legislation can’t force someone to put a hard hat on if it’s not properly enforced.
Why don’t people wear PPE?
As we all know, humans can be unpredictable. Each person will respond differently to guidelines, and this includes PPE. Some people will do everything they can to avoid wearing them.
Justifications for not wearing PPE can include:
- Comfort: hard hats aren’t exactly designed with comfort in mind
- Necessity: do they really need to wear it for that job?
- It’s restrictive: they’ll get the job done quicker this way…
- They haven’t worn it up until now, and they’re fine, look!
- They forgot. Whoops.
There are a thousand imaginative excuses for not wearing PPE, but very few wash.
Ultimately, the wearing (or not wearing) of PPE comes down to human behaviour and workplace culture. As a manager, you respond to workers neglecting to wear PPE will have a serious impact.
What can you do about it?
A common response to discovering a worker without PPE is to punish them. You provided the equipment, and they know they’re supposed to be wearing it. You may have a strike system in place, which will lead to eventual dismissal.
Of course, they could legitimately have forgotten to wear it. Assuming this is the first offence, you might be inclined to let it slide.
Conversely, some businesses might have a very relaxed attitude to PPE. An ‘oh well, don’t do it again’ attitude might seem appealing but can quickly lead to a cascade of similar offences. If there’s no consequences, or incentive to wear PPE, why bother?
There are many ways in which to respond, but these are all reactionary, rather than preventative. It might be worth asking yourself: ‘what can I do to encourage my workers to wear their PPE?’
Awareness is all well and good, but in reality, most people know they should be wearing PPE. They have likely been told to wear it in countless newsletters, on signage, and in toolbox talks. If you are still seeing people not wearing PPE, examine why these methods are not affecting the behaviour you want.
It’s a behaviour thing
I firmly believe behaviour management is one of the keys to safer working environments. Investigate further to identify why it made sense at that moment for that particular worker not to wear their PPE. Is it lack of training? Is the equipment unsuitable? Is this a wider issue which can be tackled by adjusting health and safety provisions? By identifying the root cause, you can implement a more effective solution.
This might be better training or rewards for meeting ongoing, dynamic targets. PPE usage will naturally increase as your employees strive to meet these targets and improve their behaviour. The carrot is often more effective than the stick.
Of course, some people can’t be helped and always do things their way no matter what you do, leaving the stick as the only option. But by making all efforts to check whether this is a wider culture issue, you can implement the right provisions to change worker behaviour, and prevent risky attitudes from taking root.
Sometimes, you can be too close to a problem. An outside point of view, such as that of a consultant, can be incredibly beneficial. I have helped hundreds of businesses identify the causes of improper behaviour at work, improve their safety culture, and protect their workers. Can I help you? Get in touch via the contact options below.