On Research

On Research: Why won’t some construction workers wear their PPE?

Journal of Safety Research contributors talk about their work


What’s your study about?

The main question that we tried to answer is why construction workers don’t wear the proper PPE. We identified 16 factors that contribute to PPE noncompliance. Which ones are the most important? The No. 1 contributing factor is lack of enforcement by supervisors. Practitioners and a focus group agreed that we should move safety training and management support to be high-importance factors.

Now that we have these factors, how is it possible to overcome them? What should we do to overcome them?

What are the biggest takeaways from the study?

Based on my experience as an authorized OSHA trainer, when we teach about PPE, we always talk about, “Here’s the PPE. Here’s why it’s important.” We still need to say, “To be in compliance with PPE, we need to have management support. They need to provide the necessary funding and training. We need to be sure it’s enforced by frontline supervisors.”

What, if anything, surprised you about the results?

One of the surprises was the contribution of cultural and language barriers being one of the least contributing factors. I worked in the field for a while, and this is not an accurate finding. We found that the study sample lacked Hispanic workers. This is one of the study limitations.

Currently, we are working on another study focusing on our brother and sister Hispanic construction workers to see if they will rank cultural and language barriers as one of the high-importance factors or not.

In what way does this research directly affect workers?

It’s pointing out that we cannot blame workers for not using PPE because of the high-importance contributing factors of supervision, upper management support, training and availability of PPE.

If you provide workers with the required training, the upper management commitment to safety is there, and there are supervisors who really care and enforce the safety regulations, PPE noncompliance will be much less than what we see today.

What are the next steps in this research?

We are working on two things right now. The same survey, translated into Spanish, to focus on Hispanic workers. The second avenue is we are trying to study what are the factors that influence the performance of frontline supervisors. What are the factors that improve their overall safety contribution? And, what are the factors that may reduce their contribution to overall site safety? What kind of support do they need? What kind of training do they need?

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