The main reason road construction workers do not wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when needed is because their employers do not require or enforce its use, according to a new survey of road construction safety leaders.
The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) commissioned the research as part of its "Partnership for Worker Protection" program to raise safety equipment awareness in the road construction industry.
Strategic Marketing Associates, an Ohio-based research firm specializing in the construction industry, conducted the survey.
The survey measured road construction leaders' perceptions about awareness and use of PPE, including their viewpoints on the barriers that prevent workers from using it and the effectiveness of various safety measures, including PPE.
Two hundred fifteen safety leaders took part, including 111 from the private sector (i.e. construction companies, unions, insurance underwriters) and 104 from the public sector (i.e. federal and state highway departments and other regulators, elected officials and staff).
The key finding concerning lack of employer enforcement came in response to a question that asked those surveyed to consider eight different potential barriers that may exist between hazard-exposed road workers and their use of 10 different types of PPE -- safety vests, hard hats, fall protection, safety shoes/boots, earplugs/muffs, safety glasses/goggles, gloves, respiratory protection, coveralls and face shields.
In all cases except earplugs/muffs and coveralls, the industry leaders cited "employers don't require/enforce usage" as the number one barrier.
Other barriers the respondents evaluated were "lack of style/comfort," "hampers job performance," "equipment not available or not provided," "expense of equipment to employees," "laborers aren't informed on importance of equipment," "apathetic" and "inattentive."
For earplugs/muffs, "laborers aren't informed," was the top barrier, while for coveralls, "lack of style/comfort" was cited most frequently.
Both of those barriers and "hampers job performance" were cited frequently for other types of PPE, as well.
The respondents perceived "expense of equipment to employees," "apathetic" and "inattentive" as less significant barriers.
Asked about usage level for various types of PPE when needed, the safety leaders said that high-visibility apparel (safety vests) and hard hats are worn regularly in situations where needed about 75 percent of the time -- the highest usage rates they assigned among the 10 types of PPE evaluated.
By contrast, they believe that earplugs/muffs and safety glasses/goggles are worn only about half the time when needed, and that usage rates for respiratory protection, protective coveralls and face shields fall well below that level -- in the 30 to 40 percent range.
Between six and seven out of 10 workers wear fall protection, gloves and safety shoes/boots when needed, the respondents said.
Asked about the importance of various types of PPE in minimizing accident or injury, the respondents said that safety vests, hard hats, fall protection, safety shoes, earplugs/muffs and safety glasses/goggles are "highly important."
"They consider gloves respirators, protective coveralls and face shields 'moderately important,'" said SMA President Jim McKeen. "The respondents did not think that any type of PPE is of low importance."
Considering the effectiveness of six different safety measures to minimize construction zone accidents and injuries, SMA reported that the respondents believe all of them are "highly important," with "training and education" receiving the highest rating of all.
They ranked the other measures in descending order of importance as follows: signs/lights, barriers/cones, PPE, flagger and OSHA compliance.
Commenting on the results, ISEA President Daniel Shipp said, "Most road construction employers want to do the right thing by keeping their workers safe, and many already recognize the bottom-line benefits of equipping their workers properly with PPE. We hope that these findings will serve as a wake-up call on just how far we all have to go to ensure the safety of road workers, especially in terms of their PPE use. Given the enormous costs of on-the-job injuries and the virtually incalculable costs of workplace deaths, there is no good reason why every employee isn't wearing PPE when he or she needs it."
Edited by Virginia Sutcliffe