Safety at Work: The Triggers of PPE Non-Compliance


When you run a construction or manufacturing business, chances are you require your employees to wear personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE provides an added layer of safety and security for workers when performing dangerous tasks. They serve as the “last line of protection” against injuries and accidents resulting from uncontrollable hazards. In fact, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) mandates PPE, especially among high-risk workers.

But despite federal mandates and the safety benefits, several workers refuse to wear PPE at work. A 2010 study conducted by the Kimberly-Clark Professional and the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) revealed that around 98% of safety professionals had encountered workers in their organisations who do not wear proper safety equipment. What’s worse is that around 30% of these respondents have seen such non-compliance on numerous occasions.

Such negligence has led to a spike in serious injuries and fatal accidents in the workplace. In the U.K., around 144 workers have died due to PPE non-compliance between 2015 and 2016. In the U.S., nearly 70% of workers who incurred hand injuries were not wearing any gloves, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On top of this, thousands of employees are going blind each year due to a lack of eye protection, according to the Department of Labor.

The shortage of PPE has also killed thousands of frontline workers battling against the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, at least 7,000 health workers have died across the globe after contracting the virus, according to Amnesty International. Of these, over 1,000 are from the U.S.

However, given such dire consequences, why do some workers still refuse to wear PPE? Here are some of the reasons why a few employees fail to wear safety equipment and what you can do to combat them:

1. Lack of supervision from higher-ups

Supervisors play a critical role in ensuring the safety and security of workers on site. If they fail to dress up properly for the job, chances are his subordinates will follow suit.

Encourage your employees to wear their PPE through leading by example. Identify the hazards and provide the appropriate safety equipment for your workers. Demonstrate how to properly wear a PPE and show your employees how important it is in maintaining their safety on the job site. Conduct regular training, especially when a new PPE is required to be worn at work.

2. Poorly fitted PPE

PPE can be quite uncomfortable to wear, especially when they don’t suit you properly. Ill-fitting PPE is a growing major problem among workers. In fact, a survey from a Canadian labour union showed that nearly half of employees say that their overalls and other safety equipment don’t fit them appropriately. Such discomfort can motivate workers to stop wearing their PPE altogether at work.

The “one size fits all” concept does not apply to PPE. With this, the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) urges employers to partner with suppliers to create PPE in a range of sizes to limit restrictions on body movement. Workers are also calling for PPE with climate-control features as most materials can be too hot to wear. Additionally, make sure to replace any worn out or damaged PPE. Seeking the services of uniform management experts can help you manage PPE and other safety tools of your workers.

3. Medical and religious prohibitions

cleaning the sink while wearing PPE

Some workers refuse to wear their PPE due to certain medical conditions and religious practices. For instance, some individuals may be allergic to the clothing material, while others may be prohibited from wearing specific garments as part of their religious beliefs.

However, most government mandates on health and safety do not provide exemptions on such grounds. If your workers refuse to wear the required safety equipment, it is best to redeploy them to a job or area with lesser risks. If you let your employees work on dangerous tasks with no PPE, chances are you are going to face legal consequences.

4. Lenient rules on safety and wearing of PPE

Negligent workers will continue to refuse to wear PPE, especially if there are no disciplinary consequences. To combat this, make sure that appropriate disciplinary action will be given to rule-breakers. It could come in the form of a demerit, a temporary suspension, or even dismissal.

Incorporating PPE compliance as a key factor in employee evaluations may also motivate your workers to adhere to PPE rules. Providing incentives to “safety champions” at work is another effective option.

Employers and business leaders like you are responsible for the safety of your workers at work. Knowing about the various triggers of PPE non-compliance can help you create solutions and maintain a safer environment for your workers.

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