Making it Personal
Companies are obliged to supply their employees with PPE equipment for a reason: it could save lives. But an equal amount of onus falls on employees. SHEQ MANAGEMENT investigates how to ensure compliance.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is used to reduce exposure to hazards when engineering and administrative controls alone cannot keep these risks at acceptable levels. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Number 85 of 1993, any employee working in a situation where they may be exposed to risk or potential risk is required to wear PPE.
It is a requirement of law that an employer may not permit employees to work “unless such an employee uses the required safety equipment or facility provided”. In short, the employer has a legal obligation to supply and enforce the use of PPE. Failure to do so could have serious repercussions for the employer, safety officer and the company – to the extent that the company could be forced to close. However, the law also states that responsibility needs to be shared: employees must take responsibility for their own well-being and safety.
One mistake that must never be made is for PPE to be seen as a replacement for sound engineering and administrative controls and good work practices. Rather, it should be used in conjunction with these controls to ensure the health and safety of employees.
Depending on the environment in question, various forms of PPE will be required. Miners wouldn’t be sent underground without gas detectors and hard-hats, nor would construction workers be allowed to work on a multiple-story building without the correct harness and fall-arresting gear. Each is outlined as a set of regulations within the OSH Act.
It’s undeniable that the use of PPE is non-negotiable, but what about people’s attitudes towards it – how can a company ensure that its employees take PPE as seriously as they should?
The SA Labour Guide OSH Toolkit PPE Policy outlines eight conditions of use when it comes to PPE:
1. PPE will be issued at the expense of the company.
2. PPE remains the property of the company and must be handed back on termination of service.
3. Loss or wilful damage to PPE may result in disciplinary action being taken against the employee after an investigation.
4. Failure to use, or the incorrect usage of, PPE may result in disciplinary action being taken against the employee after an investigation.
5. If PPE is lost, stolen or damaged, it must be reported immediately by the employee to their supervisor.
6. The use of PPE will be enforced by management. Refusal or failure to wear/use PPE may lead to disciplinary procedures being instituted.
7. Employees will be responsible for properly maintaining PPE issued to them. It should always be in a clean and safe condition.
8. Comprehensive training on the use and limitations of PPE is to be provided.
Despite these strict outlines, a certain problem remains: many individuals have issues with wearing PPE. It stands to reason that the more comfortable and less restrictive equipment is, the more likely the employee will be to wear it. Resistance could also come from misguided ideas about risk, with “It will never happen to me” being a common attitude.
The Health Society of South Africa (HSSA) advises that employees assess their risk, avoid taking shortcuts and make their PPE work for them.
Comfort is the best way to avoid frustration. Making sure the correct size is provided is an obvious first step, and will also prevent the equipment itself from becoming a hazard. Clothing that is too big could get entangled in equipment or cause the employee to trip. Similarly, gloves that are too big could allow hazardous substances to seep in, while gloves that are too small could affect the person’s circulation. One size does not necessarily fit all. With protective equipment that fits, the employee is also less likely to keep adjusting it for comfort, which can distract them from the job at hand as well as the associated risks.
This factor also includes the working order of the equipment itself. A harness that keeps coming loose, for example, will be uncomfortable, distract the wearer and most of all, cause risk due to the possibility of malfunction. Such equipment needs to be regarded as faulty. It is the responsibility of the employer to make sure all equipment is in good working order, and it’s the responsibility of the employee to report such faults when discovered.
The HSSA gives the following tips for making PPE work for the user:
• When in doubt, ask questions; what you don’t know can hurt you.
• Inspect equipment; damaged equipment can be worse than none at all and can lead to a false sense
• Don’t modify PPE; it is designed to work in a specific way.
• Keep equipment clean; dirty equipment can raise risk by impairing or distracting the user.
• PPE can be awkward at times – so make slower, more controlled movements.
These tips can make compliance a lot easier and keep employees safe from harm and the company protected from the law. Companies need to make employees’ lives easier and safer, while employees need to use the equipment provided, and make their grievances known in cases where equipment is sub-standard. Wherever risk is present, the correct attitude towards PPE is as vital as the equipment itself.