Nearly all safety professionals in a survey released this week said that workers in their organizations had at some point failed to wear the necessary safety equipment while on the job.

Ninety-eight percent of respondents who attended June’s American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) meeting in Baltimore answered “yes” when asked if they had observed workers not wearing safety equipment when they should have been, according to the survey, which was conducted by Kimberly-Clark Professional.

Thirty percent said this had happened on numerous occasions. Worker compliance with personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols was cited as the top workplace safety issue by all survey respondents.

Three-quarters of respondents chose workplace accidents and injuries in response to the question: “What is most likely to keep you up at night?” Potential exposure because of noncompliance with PPE protocols was second, at 13 percent, while fear of a global pandemic and its impact on the workforce was a distant third, cited by only 8 percent of respondents.

In terms of compliance with PPE use protocols, eye protection was found to be the “most challenging” PPE category, according to 42 percent of respondents.

The next highest category for noncompliance was hearing protection. It was followed by gloves and head protection.

Reasons for PPE noncompliance were varied, but the biggest complaint was that it was “uncomfortable,” selected by 40 percent of respondents, followed by:

  • Too hot
  • Not available near the work task
  • Poor fit
  • Unattractive looking

When asked what they had done or intended to do to improve compliance levels, these safety professionals’ top choice was to improve existing education and training programs. This was followed by:

  • Increased monitoring of employees
  • Purchasing more comfortable PPE
  • Tying compliance to individual performance evaluations
  • Purchasing more stylish PPE
  • Developing incentive programs to encourage greater PPE compliance

  • When safety professionals were asked about their visions for the future of PPE, fit, comfort and style took precedence. Forty-two percent of respondents said they would like to see PPE that automatically adjusts to fit different body types, hands, heads, faces, etc.

    Next was PPE with customizable style and design options, so that workers could select PPE based on their own individual tastes and safety requirements (32 percent). This was followed by PPE designed with integrated climate-control features, providing cooling or warmth as needed (15 percent).

    The impact of customization and style on PPE compliance was further underscored by the response to another question. When asked if customizable or individualized style and design options would help increase PPE compliance, 87 percent of respondents said that it would.

    The survey of 132 attendees at the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) show in Baltimore, Md., was conducted via the Internet between June 9 and 13, 2010. All survey respondents said they were responsible for purchasing, selecting or influencing the purchase or selection of personal protective equipment (PPE). Ninety percent were safety directors or managers, while the other 10 percent were industrial hygienists, facilities or general managers, or held other positions. They were employed in the following fields: chemical/plastics manufacturing; construction/utilities; computer, electronics and electrical product manufacturing; food processing; metal manufacturing; transpiration equipment manufacturing or other fields.