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Personal protective equipment should fit the workplace

April 1, 2010

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What are the main causes of noncompliance with personal protective equipment protocols in the workplace? What can safety managers do to increase PPE compliance, particularly when it comes to protective apparel?

Answered by Dave Matela, senior category manager, Kimberly-Clark Professional, Global Safety Business, Roswell, GA.

When it comes to protecting employees in the workplace, compliance with personal protective equipment protocols is one of the most crucial elements of any safety program. Yet noncompliance continues to be an issue.

In a Kimberly-Clark Professional survey conducted at the National Safety Council's 2008 Congress & Expo, 89 percent of safety professionals said they had observed workers failing to wear PPE when they should have been.

It is not surprising that one-third of respondents said worker compliance with safety protocols was the top safety issue in their facilities. Uncomfortable PPE is one key factor that can lead to noncompliance. In another Kimberly-Clark Professional survey taken at the 2007 NSC Congress & Expo, discomfort was found to be the chief cause of PPE noncompliance. Next was workers thinking PPE was not necessary for the task, followed by PPE being too hot, fitting poorly and being unattractive.

All of these issues can be addressed by choosing high-quality PPE that performs properly, fits well, and is comfortable and stylish. Yet comfort or wearability often is not adequately addressed when selecting PPE. These issues extend to all types of PPE. For instance, if coveralls do not provide adequate breathability, there is a chance users will avoid wearing them or will modify the PPE in some way, compromising its protective features. Look for garments that allow heat and sweat vapors to escape while providing protection against hazardous elements.

Comfort and fit

Comfortable garments need to be designed to offer a greater range of sizing options to fit men's and women's various body types. Size and cut are extremely important because for a garment to fit comfortably, it cannot be too big or too small. Another apparel design feature that helps to improve fit and makes for a more comfortable and wearable garment is an elastic waist. Stretch panels under the arms and across the back offer better fit, increased range of motion and built-in freedom of movement in coveralls.

Appearance

Style also can lead to greater compliance. By providing a range of options in terms of color and style, workers are afforded some control over how they look. When people are content with their appearance in PPE, they will be more likely to wear it without modification. PPE that is perceived as "cool" also is more likely to be worn. That is why many PPE manufacturers are looking at consumer fashion and sports apparel industries for cues on the latest styles, which can be adapted for the PPE market.

Comfort, fit and style all can help drive compliance. This approach reflects the OSHA guidelines for selecting PPE, which state: "Employers should take the fit and comfort of PPE into consideration when selecting appropriate items for their workplace. PPE that fits well and is comfortable to wear will encourage employee use of PPE."



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