The current economic downturn is forcing many companies to consider ways to reduce their day-to-day operating costs. A personal protective equipment (PPE) assessment can help identify opportunities to improve the bottom line.

But how can you be sure your assessment is zeroing in on what you need to know?

Start with your employees
Your assessment should begin with a plant walk-through. Gain input from the workers and supervisors who perform each phase of daily operations. This is how you learn about the critical factors associated with each task, and evaluate any concerns that may impede worker productivity.

If employees do not have hand protection that provides the necessary level of cut protection, they may perform tasks more slowly because they lack confidence in their ability to safely do the job. If their hand protection does not provide sufficient grip to securely grasp wet or oily objects, performance may be hampered by a concern about dropping and even breaking objects.

Many other concerns can affect worker productivity, including apprehension about punctures or abrasions or concerns about whether PPE will provide the necessary heat or thermal protection.

Assess the comfort factor
Determine if workers’ PPE is sufficiently comfortable to allow them to perform their tasks to the highest level. For example, an assessment conducted at a white goods manufacturer revealed workers were wearing their safety gloves for a short period of time and then discarding them because they were uncomfortable and did not provide the dexterity needed. Because the gloves still had serviceable life, this premature disposal was costly for the company.

Based on these results, the manufacturer supplied ergonomically designed gloves. Because of the increased comfort, workers preferred to wear them — and continued to wear them to the end of the gloves’ expected life. Even though the new gloves cost more initially, the manufacturer was able to save more than $100,000 in glove replacement costs during the first year.

Prevent injuries
Injury prevention represents another opportunity to improve the bottom line. When companies reduce injuries, they decrease medical and indemnity costs and boost productivity because workers have less lost time.

Determine if employees are using the optimum protection in their working environment. Analyze critical factors associated with each task to make recommendations to eliminate potential injuries and PPE misapplication.

Hand injuries at a metal processor, for example, were costing the company more than $500,000 each year. Based on recommendations from the PPE assessment, the company supplied workers with gloves that virtually eliminated injuries. While the resulting solution was more expensive initially, the company ultimately saved over $150,000 due to reduced medical costs and related expenses.

Reduce waste
A PPE assessment can identify solutions to substantially reduce the amount of waste and associated costs that may be present in your current work environment. Reducing waste in the form of defects or lost time can significantly drive down operating costs.

Gloves, for example, may produce lint that mars the surface of a product and results in the product being reworked or discarded. Workers may drop and break products because their gloves do not provide sufficient grip. Employees may remove their gloves and don them later because they do not provide the dexterity for a specific task, such as recording data on a computer.

All of these scenarios are costly and waste time. Even though a process such as donning and removing gloves may require only seconds, when the procedure is repeated several times each day, the amount of wasted time accumulates quickly.

Take control of PPE distribution
Analyze PPE usage to determine how your company dispenses products to employees. In some cases, employees may have unlimited access which allows them to acquire PPE any time they choose. This lack of controlled distribution may result in higher PPE costs because workers discard products prematurely. Employees may also suffer more injuries because they select the wrong protection for the task.

Determine what control mechanisms will be most effective. For instance, vending machines manage PPE distribution by requiring workers to use a key card to gain access. Another option may be to designate a central store where employees must sign out PPE products. This allows management to monitor how often workers obtain PPE and provides insight into the specific products and costs associated with the program.

Upgrade your training
A PPE assessment often reveals companies need to improve their employee education and training programs. Companies usually conduct some type of PPE training, but it may be limited to an hour-long session that presents the same information to everyone.

Identify training tools that will better educate individual employees about the specific tasks they perform every day. Effective training ensures workers have no question about what solutions they need for their jobs and the associated protection and performance characteristics.

Keep improving your program
Commit to conducting follow-up assessments at regular intervals to determine if the solutions implemented are working. Follow-up assessments also allow you to identify new solutions that can further improve dayto- day operations and facilitate changes that will make your work environment even more efficient.