Improving PPE usage important to ensure manufacturing safety

A lack of consistent or proper use of PPE leads to injuries and changing best practices and the culture are key to reducing these potential injuries

February 12, 2014

The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the manufacturing workplace is a critical aspect of an overall safety program. History shows that there is not always consistent or proper use of PPE, and that can lead to workplace injuries.

Plant Engineering discussed PPE, its use, and its standards with Randy DeVaul, Sc.D., M.A., the senior capability development manager for Kimberly-Clark Professional’s Global Industrial Safety Division. DeVaul talked about the impact of PPE usage for Kimberly-Clark Professional both as an industry supplier and as a manufacturer:

PE: What are some of the main PPE challenges associated with safety and productivity within a manufacturing facility?

DeVaul: Manufacturing safety managers and production managers face many challenges when it comes to PPE compliance. As manufacturers make decisions to protect worker health and safety, they must also work to promote workplace efficiency and productivity. This can be a difficult balance to achieve.

While manufacturers can eliminate physical hazards through safety engineering or administrative controls, PPE compliance and safe work practices provide workers with a last line of defense for face and head injuries. Unfortunately, data shows that many of the workers that sustain eye, face, and head injuries were not wearing the PPE that was issued to protect them.

A survey about worksite injuries conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that 84% of all workers who suffered head injuries were not wearing head protection at the time of the injury even though head protection may have been provided by their employer. The majority of these workers were injured while performing their normal jobs at their usual worksites. Those injuries could have been minimized or avoided altogether had they been wearing proper PPE and following safe work practices.

Given the various primary and ancillary processes involved in welding (e.g., grinding, torch cutting, etc.), workers in metal manufacturing can be put in situations where they need to remove their hardhats to don a welding helmet or to add a face shield as they shift between different work tasks. In an effort to simplify the inefficiency of switching between hardhats, welding hoods, and face shields, managers are having to piece together PPE in a way that creates not only gaps in safety, but also compliance issues and inefficiency. There are also managers and employees with the misconception that wearing PPE can create problems with efficiency and productivity-that is, of course, until an injury occurs.

Increasingly, high non-compliance with PPE protocols is an alarming trend and a serious threat to worker health, safety, and productivity. Whether due to economic conditions, a flawed approach to safety programs, or ingrained attitudes resulting in at-risk performance, solutions are needed to remove these gaps to maintain the health and safety of all workers and to improve efficiency and productivity.

Safety needs to be valued above all else, but that does not have to be at the expense of productivity. There does not need to be a compromise with safety or productivity.

PE: What are the consequences of lapses in the use of proper PPE?

DeVaul: Since it only takes one lapse for an incident to occur, the risk to a company can be high. In fact, 100,000 Americans suffer from serious head injuries on the job each year, with nearly 1,000 American workers experiencing job-related eye injuries each day. Many of these injuries result in permanent disabilities or blindness and even death. The National Council on Compensation Insurance also estimates that a single concussion injury can cost an employer over $143,000 in direct and indirect costs. The average metal manufacturing company would need to sell an additional $2.9 million in products to make up this cost.

Another consequence involves the increased risk of compliance, whether due to an injury or an employee complaint. The ripple effect can be far-reaching, from additional citations and increases in worker compensation premiums to the downward spiral of a company’s public image and community relations standing.

Finally, the plight of the injured employee should not be minimized. Regardless of why PPE was not being worn or not correctly worn, there is the financial, emotional, and quality of life cost to the employee and his or her family during healing and recovery time that can also impact the employee’s ability to return to work to normally assigned tasks.

PE: In what ways are safety managers and production managers trying to ensure that both safety and productivity, respectively, are not compromised by one another?

DeVaul: To address these challenges, a compromise for employees is to wear a hardhat at all times unless welding, believing that nothing will happen when they are welding, or to be outfitted with a multitude of PPE to protect against all ancillary processes, creating excessive inventory.

Some manufacturers are supplying employees with three different hardhats: one basic hardhat, one hardhat with a face shield attached, and one with a welding helmet attached. While this seems like a logical solution, it creates new challenges with storage, productivity, and safety. With up to three different helmets being stored in often confined work zones, workers are finding that they do not have enough space to store helmets properly or to even set them down so as to avoid other hazards. An improperly stored helmet can also collect dust and debris. In turn, this debris can shower the employee and penetrate the eyes when stored helmets are put on for a new task, resulting in an injury.

By attempting to ensure worker health and safety through the use of multiple helmets, manufacturers are dealing with cost and production inefficiencies as a result of wasted inventory and wasted motion. This approach is not complementary to Lean manufacturing processes, does not help to reduce waste or lost time, and creates non-compliance issues.

In addition, safety and production managers struggle to get employees to wear safety eyewear. This leads to "flavor of the month" purchasing and inventory to appeal to the employees’ style and comfort, but often at the cost of excess inventory. When offered separately, faceshields often can be difficult to attach to hardhats or employees forego wearing hardhats entirely with no resolution to properly protect their eyes and face. Improper storage and the readiness for use of faceshields or goggles also create eye, face, and inhalation exposures from the concentrated buildup of dust, metal fine, and other airborne debris settling on the PPE.

Updated in 2010, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) Z87.1 standard outlines the established performance criteria and testing requirements for devices used to protect the eyes, face, and head from injuries caused by impact, non-ionizing radiation, and chemical exposure in workplaces. The standard covers all types of protection configurations including goggles, face shields, welding helmets, and full face piece respirators. Most notably, the standard requires manufacturers to ensure that if workers are using a combination of PPE, then that equipment must be tested together to ensure safety compliance. In most cases, this is not occurring.

PE: What approaches can be utilized to help mitigate these PPE challenges and remove safety gaps?

DeVaul: Through worker education and training programs around face and head injury risk mitigation strategies and PPE compliance, safety managers and production managers can collaboratively change imbedded attitudes or practices in their workforce that lead to potential injuries. This requires a two-pronged approach that involves employee-focused education and standardized PPE integration, both of which can be implemented in lockstep.

The first approach is for manufacturers to build awareness among their employees about the dangers of not using PPE or using non-compliant PPE. In truth, site managers must connect with the hearts and minds of their employees. This emphasis strengthens each site’s safety culture and builds a sense of shared accountability among all employees so they identify hazards, at-risk practices, and performance before the occurrence of an incident.

To improve productivity, injury reduction, and compliance, the second approach is for PPE to be standardized, constant, and appropriate to the tasks performed. Eye, face, and head protection measures also must be consistent and systematic to minimize safety gaps. Managers should identify and introduce standardized PPE solutions that will mitigate risk and promote productivity.

PE: As a manufacturer, how does KCP overcome PPE challenges associated with safety and productivity within its own facilities?

DeVaul: At Kimberly-Clark Professional, we understand that to be successful we must foster a transformation culture by partnering with our customers to create Exceptional Workplaces, ones that are healthier, safer, and more productive.

We recognize the importance of not only removing hazards and developing safety procedures but also aggressively working to change risk-prone attitudes and performance-from our manufacturing mills to our customers’ facilities, work sites, and shop floors. We achieve this outcome by improving each of our employee’s situational awareness and by offering opportunities for employees to be involved. When workers embrace safety standards and safe work practices, they take ownership of their actions, creating workplace cultures that are based in safety and accountability.

As part of our culture of safety, we are focused toward continuous improvement. We are always evaluating our portfolio of hygiene, safety, and productivity solutions and working directly with our customers to identify and problem-solve against unmet needs. These partnerships allow us to develop customer-derived innovations that address gaps in workplace safety and productivity. One such solution is our hardhat interchange system from Jackson Safety. The system minimizes the risk of injury to an employee’s head and face, helps to reduce PPE spending, and helps to promote worker productivity.

The design of the hardhat interchange system allows for the change of a welding helmet or a faceshield. The tactically located interchange mechanism is simple to use and employees do not have to remove their hardhat to perform different tasks. For example, a worker can remove his or her faceshield for cleaning then quickly reposition the faceshield once cleaned, or a welder can switch from a welding hood to a faceshield when moving from welding to grinding, respectfully. All of these PPE changes can be done without ever exposing the eyes, face, or head to danger by removing a hardhat.

This relentless focus on safety and productivity ensures we can proactively respond to the ever-changing workplace environment and observe changes or modifications in employee performance or processes in our customers. Our deep industry knowledge also positions us to evolve and address new safety and productivity challenges. As a result, the identification of exposures and safety solutions can adapt in tangent with increased safety awareness-allowing for our ongoing responsiveness and optimal business performance.