Personal Protective Equipment Use in Heavy Construction Increases

The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the heavy construction industry is on the rise, but hundreds of thousands of workers in dangerous jobs are still unprotected.

These latest findings from a survey conducted by the Industrial Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) included responses from 213 safety professionals from the private sector (construction companies, labor, insurance underwriters, trade associations and trade press) and public sector (federal, state and local officials). This is the second year the survey was conducted.

Responses indicated more workers are wearing six of the 10 PPE types investigated - hardhats, protective eyewear, hearing protection, protective coveralls, face shields and safety shoes - when needed. Two other types of PPE, safety vests and respiratory protection, showed essentially no change, while the other two types, fall protection and gloves, showed decreases. Overall usage of PPE grew 2.3 percent from 2001 to 2002.

"Hardhats, high-visibility apparel (safety vests) and safety shoes or boots continue to be the most regularly used PPE, with about three-quarters of workers wearing them when needed," said Jim McKeen, president of Strategic Marketing Associates, which conducted the survey for ISEA. He noted face shields, air-purifying and air-supplied respirators, and protective coveralls are regularly worn by the smallest numbers of workers - about four in 10 - when needed.

"On the bright side," he added, "face shields - the least regularly worn PPE of those investigated - showed a significant increase in use, moving from 34 percent in the 2001 survey to 39 percent in the follow-up. Safety shoes and boots and safety glasses and goggles also showed substantial increases in regular use, up 7 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Unfortunately, the survey indicated that fall protection use declined by 5 percent."

The survey also showed that the perceived importance of PPE is increasing in the heavy construction industry. When asked to rate the importance of the various types of PPE in minimizing risk of injury in construction, six types of PPE (hardhats, protective eyewear, safety shoes, hearing protection, face shields and protective coveralls) showed increases in their importance from 2001 to 2002; one type (respiratory protection) showed no change; and three types (safety vests, fall protection and gloves) showed decreases.

As in 2001, this year's survey also asked respondents to indicate the primary reasons why construction workers do not use PPE more regularly. For the second year in a row, by far and away the main reason cited by the safety leaders is because "employers do not require or enforce use." In the 2002 survey, it was the number one reason given for six of the 10 PPE types studied, and the number two reason for the remaining types. Other factors cited frequently were "lack of style/comfort" and "hampers job performance."

"We are encouraged by the upward trend in PPE use and awareness in the heavy construction industry," commented ISEA President Dan Shipp. "Nonetheless, with some 2 million Americans employed in dangerous construction jobs, the numbers indicate there still are hundreds of thousands of under-protected workers. And the 'employers don't require or enforce use' wake-up call now has sounded two years in a row."

He said the failure of an employer to provide workers with PPE and make sure they wear it "are mistakes that gamble with employees' safety and health, with the bottom line, and potentially with the company's future."

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