Survey: Workers Risk Injury By Not Wearing PPE

U.S. workers are risking workplace injuries by not complying with important safety procedures, according to a new survey released by Kimberly-Clark Professional.

The survey found that 89 percent of safety professionals polled at the 2008 National Safety Council (NSC) Congress have observed workers failing to wear PPE when they should have been.

"We find it disheartening that people continue to put themselves at risk by failing to wear PPE when undertaking hazardous tasks," said Randy Kates, general manager of the safety business for Kimberly-Clark Professional. "Despite the importance of PPE, there is still an unacceptably high rate of noncompliance in the workplace."

This is the third consecutive year that the Kimberly-Clark survey has revealed a high rate of PPE noncompliance. In 2007, 87 percent of respondents said they had observed PPE noncompliance in the workplace, while 85 percent answered yes to this question in 2006.

When asked to name the top workplace safety issue in their facilities, one third of respondents cited worker compliance with safety protocols, followed by insufficient management support and/or resources for health and safety functions (27 percent). Underreporting of workplace injuries and illnesses was third (14 percent), followed by training a multilingual, multicultural workforce (7 percent) and escalating worker compensation costs (5 percent).

Is the Economy a Factor?

One potential explanation for continuing compliance problems could be the economy. Thirty-four percent of respondents said the economy had affected worker safety training programs or resources. Fifty-nine percent said it had not. Of those who said the economy had impacted safety training or resources, the survey found that:

  • 63 percent said it had led to less money for education and training.
  • 42 percent said it had resulted in reduced personnel to handle safety training tasks.
  • 33 percent said the faltering economy had led to business concerns taking precedence over safety concerns.

This year's survey also polled safety professionals about the steps they have taken or intend to take to encourage greater PPE compliance. The top response was "improving existing education and training programs," followed by "purchasing more comfortable PPE." Increased monitoring of employees was third, followed by tying compliance to individual performance evaluations and purchasing more stylish PPE.

"Work-related injuries in the U.S. cost more than $50 billion a year,” said Kates. "Our research has shown that comfort and style are major drivers for compliance with PPE protocols. In the current economic climate it is more important than ever to invest in PPE that workers will want to wear."

Environmental Sustainability

This year's survey also focused on the environment. Fifty-nine percent of respondents reported that their companies had formal corporate sustainability goals, while 22 percent said they did not and 20 percent did not know.

Respondents from companies with corporate sustainability goals were asked what their facilities were doing to become more environmentally responsible. The top choice was reducing the waste generated by a facility's processes, followed by reducing energy consumption, reducing waste associated with supplies and other purchased items and reducing water consumption.

In addition, 39 percent of the polled safety professionals said they worked to increase the amount of recycled content in the products supplied to them. Twenty-nine percent of respondents were reducing packaging materials for the products supplied to them and asked supplies to demonstrate environmentally responsible business practices. Finally, 27 percent cited delivering more products at one time in efforts to reduce fuel usage.

Only 6 percent of respondents said environmental responsibility was not a major concern for their organizations.

Safety Philosophy

This year, respondents were asked to describe their personal safety philosophy from a list of choices. Two responses tied for first place: "Safety doesn't cost it pays" and "Organizations must create safety based cultures" (43 percent each). Only 10 percent selected the statement "Safety begins and ends at the top" and just two percent chose "Safety is a pain, but so is my boss."

"These results did not surprise us," said Scott Gaddis, global safety leader for Kimberly-Clark Professional. "Workplace safety must be managed like every other strategic business objective that is important to an organization's success."

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