Chain of Command

July 8, 2009
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Establishing a chain of command can help take the guesswork out of PPE costs and ensure worker compliance. Companies that designate a PPE chain of command generally have better control over PPE costs because they have better oversight of the products that enter their facilities and know how much PPE workers are using. They also have peace of mind from knowing workers have the right products for the tasks, which prevent injuries and increase productivity.

A PPE chain of command is usually comprised of members of a company’s safety committee. Depending on the size of the company and the formality of its safety department, the chain of command may have less structure and fewer individuals involved. Personnel who are part of this group realize the various safety challenges workers face and can help establish safety objectives, strategies and tools for measurement.

A PPE program with an established chain of command is more likely to garner support from senior level management because it is systematic. There is also a higher level of confidence in the accuracy of PPE decisions because the appropriate personnel are selecting products.

When no chain of command exists
Manufacturing facilities without a recognized chain of command are more likely to have variances in their PPE program. There is little control over PPE products because supervisors and others may work with any number of suppliers and choose products based on employee preferences or cost rather than product performance and quality. Products selected may look good and provide a higher level of comfort, but they may not offer the protection needed.

Establishing a single point of approval is especially important during challenging economic times when supervisors and others may be tempted to buy PPE products with a lower price tag. Some plants, for example, provide line supervisors with purchasing cards with values up to $500, which the supervisors may use to buy PPE products that have not been approved for use within the plant.

A supervisor may try to stretch his or her dollars by selecting leather gloves for employees in the metalworking shop — even though the gloves may not provide the level of cut protection a job requires. These gloves may actually cost the company more in the long term in the form of increased injuries and indemnity expenses, decreased productivity and poor worker morale.

Manufacturers that do not have a chain of command may also find it difficult to implement PPE changes. Manufacturing processes are constantly modified, which may require workers to wear PPE with different levels of protection.

The PPE chain of command will assume responsibility for updating safety standards and selecting and introducing new PPE to workers on the floor. Workers are less likely to show resistance to new PPE when the same safety team that has been working with them all along initiates changes.

Who should be involved?
Here are individuals who are often part of the PPE chain of command and their roles:

Line Supervisors – These individuals are primary to the PPE program’s success as they are the most integrated with employees who work on the line every day and best understand their specific needs. They are also responsible for worker compliance to PPE rules within their departments.

Line supervisors generally know whether PPE products are providing the level of protection needed. Plus, they know whether PPE products are comfortable enough and provide sufficient dexterity for workers to perform tasks safely and productively during their shifts. When workers are unhappy with PPE products, line supervisors are generally the first to know.

Union Safety Representative – The union representative should be included in the PPE chain of command in any unionized plant. This person is the voice of the users and the point of contact when workers do not have the right PPE products to perform their jobs.

Gaining input and support from the union safety representative can help prevent future performance concerns. Workers are more likely to be productive and remain on the job when their union representative is involved in PPE selection decisions.

Industrial Hygienist – The industrial hygienist is responsible for the overall health and welfare of the entire workforce. This person usually reports to the plant manager and holds responsibility for concerns such as lead levels within the plant, ergonomics and the incidence of injuries, including repetitive motion injuries (RMI) such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

If, for example, workers suffer an unusually high number of injuries resulting from the excessive force required to securely grip objects, the industrial hygienist will be responsible for identifying the reason for the injuries and implementing solutions with quantifiable results.

Safety Manager/Director – This individual usually leads the safety committee and likewise should head the PPE chain of command. The safety manager is responsible for the facility’s legal compliance and works with OSHA to implement standards and assess the facility for hazards.

He or she develops a safety culture within the plant and engages employees and others in systematically reducing or eliminating exposure to physical hazards and unsafe work practices. The safety manager may report to the plant manager or industrial hygienist. He or she is usually active with industry trade associations such as the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and the National Safety Council, which provide product and technology updates and forums for interaction.

Plant Manager – While the plant manager is ultimately responsible for worker safety and compliance, his or her participation in the PPE chain of command may be limited. The plant manager typically relies on the safety manager and others in the chain of command to make responsible decisions. The plant manager, however, may become actively involved if injuries suddenly increase.

Bottom line
Individuals who are part of the PPE chain of command not only work with PPE specialists to select the appropriate PPE for various tasks, but they are also responsible for assuring that workers use protective products to the end of their serviceable life. Furthermore, they will confirm that PPE products are recycled and/or disposed of in a responsible manner.

Whether the PPE chain of command is documented or not, these individuals have the knowledge and control that can reduce injuries and related costs, increase productivity and boost morale. Members of the chain of command work with employees at various levels and understand what is required to create a safe, healthy and productive environment.

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