Founder, Simply-People, Simply People

March 25, 2024

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Why health and safety practitioners must do more when it comes to PPE

Danny Clarke explores strategies to communicate the benefits of suitable PPE, aligning with the priorities of different departments, and emphasises the importance of involving subject matter experts (HS professionals) in decision-making processes and reviews of preferred supplier lists.

By now, you will no doubt have seen some of the campaigns that are building momentum around inclusive PPE. If you have not, I strongly urge you to do so. They are greatly needed but also serve as a timely reminder of our fallibility as health and safety practitioners.

Danny Clarke

Danny Clarke

Yes, I went there. As a health and safety practitioner, or at the very least someone with a keen interest in health and safety, these campaigns are a timely reminder that we are far from the finished article. To ensure health and safety on our sites, we need to be better at influencing other stakeholders and highlighting the benefits to the wider business while listening to the employees around barriers. In this instance, it applies to PPE, but it can equally apply to a number of other welfare and accessibility avenues or wider issues more generally.

We must ask ourselves that if we haven’t managed to influence our peers in something that’s clearly detailed in the hierarchy of controls, how on earth can we expect to change controls on site that could lead to reductions in falls from height, impacts from vehicles and plant and other life changing incidents.

Why aren’t we getting this right?

Well, simply put ensuring the effective procurement and utilisation of PPE requires an understanding of the diverse needs and perspectives of various departments. This it could be said is not the forte of our profession, this is a generalistic statement and one I would suspect wont win me many friends. The reality is that there are many many fantastic H&S practitioners who are adept at this, unfortunately there are also those that aren’t.

Now, it is fair to say that beyond any doubt, PPE plays a pivotal role in safeguarding individuals from occupational hazards. However, the efficacy of PPE extends beyond mere compliance and immediate health and safety.

To truly maximize its value, an integrated approach is essential, one that considers departmental challenges, long-term benefits, and the human factor. I will delve into the importance of adopting an integrated strategy that considers language, behaviour influence, and comfort, emphasising the need for inclusive fits as well as long-term solutions.

But let us start with the need to influence around the subject of PPE. The reality is that departments will differ in their challenges and priorities, which can significantly impact the successful implementation of PPE protocols.

Yes, we can quote legislation, many of our colleagues will and do on a daily basis, and yes, we can talk about the hierarchy of controls and what people must do, etc. However, for many, it is not always their focus. That is your job, H&S officer. They can be more focused on things that are in their job descriptions and control.

That means budgets, invoices, payroll for finance departments, for instance. Cost can be their number one priority, and advocating for a more expensive solution does not necessarily sit high on a list of key objectives. Therefore, it is crucial that when looking to conduct thorough assessments to identify specific needs, you work with other departmental colleagues to ensure you have a comprehensive understanding of the unique challenges that each department faces as well as what their drivers are.

Procurement teams, with their laser focus on budgets and bottom lines, can be our allies in ensuring top-notch PPE. By displaying the long-term value of investing in quality equipment, we can highlight the potential for cost reduction stemming from accident prevention and associated liabilities as much as other indirect costs.

Why do this?

Credit: Alamy Stock

Well, research has shown that tailoring safety protocols to individual departments increases compliance and overall safety performance.

This approach acknowledges the diverse nature of work environments, recognising that a one-size-fits-all strategy may not be effective in mitigating specific risks.

By addressing and understanding departmental challenges directly, organisations can create a more robust and adaptable safety culture. This approach also helps in avoiding unintended consequences of inappropriate behaviours or actions.

But what do I mean by this? Language and linking to their way of working such as objectives are a critical aspect of achieving compliance and behavioural change. Adopting an appropriate and inclusive tone is essential for engaging all employees, irrespective of gender.

Research suggests that language plays a vital role in shaping perceptions and attitudes toward safety measures (DeJoy, 2013). Therefore, communication strategies should be crafted to resonate with diverse audiences, fostering a sense of inclusivity and shared responsibility.

Simply saying “you must do this because of X” is unlikely to result in the actions or behaviours you are wanting to see.

In addition to language, influencing behaviours is a key component. Nudging, a concept rooted in behavioural economics, involves subtly steering individuals toward desired actions.

Again, there are studies that highlight the effectiveness of nudging in promoting positive behaviours, including safety compliance. By leveraging nudges tailored to specific departmental contexts, organisations can create environments where PPE usage becomes a natural and ingrained practice.

“I accept adjustable hard hats may be more expensive but hey what’s 50p per unit between friends?”

While the primary purpose of PPE is to ensure health and safety, comfort should not be overlooked. Employees are more likely to consistently use PPE if it is comfortable and does not impede their ability to perform tasks efficiently. Drawing a parallel between the comfort of PPE and the use of hearing defenders versus moulds is illustrative.

PPEIf PPE is uncomfortable, it may lead to non-compliance, putting individuals at risk. Likewise providing equipment that fits goes a very long way to people actually wearing it, whether that’s boots, jackets, trousers or even hard hats, yes I accept adjustable hard hats may be more expensive but hey what’s 50p per unit between friends?

Research by Boyce et al. (2014) suggests that comfortable PPE not only improves compliance but also contributes to overall job satisfaction and well-being. Therefore, investing in ergonomic designs and materials that prioritise comfort can have a positive impact on the sustained use of PPE. This approach fosters a culture where employees perceive PPE as an enabler rather than a hindrance.

It is necessary to shift the focus from short-term gains to long-term value when implementing PPE strategies. While immediate compliance is essential, the true benefits of a holistic approach manifest in the improvement of safety culture, employee well-being, and organisational resilience.

The investment in comprehensive safety measures pays off over time, leading to reduced incidents, lower costs, and enhanced productivity—a win-win for the finance departments if articulated in the right way.

A holistic approach to PPE not only enhances safety but also extends its benefits to broader health and compliance aspects. Employees who feel their well-being is prioritised are more likely to engage in proactive health behaviours, contributing to an overall healthier workforce.

Additionally, a positive safety culture instils a sense of responsibility and compliance, creating an environment where individuals willingly adhere to protocols without the need for constant monitoring.

If you want to really start to make a change on your sites, has there ever been a better time?

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Neil Jowsey
Neil Jowsey
18 days ago

Danny, well said. PPE can play such an important role is keeping people safe at work but has felt less important in the hierarchy of control in the past. Thankfully this is starting to change and you make some great points about the importance of comfort and the impact on culture. At Cromwell we have supplied PPE for over 30 years but have worked very hard in the last few years to select products from our suppliers and also to develop our own products, which we market under the HALO-brand. We have designed these products to be much more inclusive,… Read more »