Don't Invite an OSHA Citation with Lower Quality PPE

Jan. 1, 2011
New regulations turn up pressure on employers to keep workers safe.

Don't be surprised if you find more OSHA inspectors on your doorstep in the near future. According to David Michaels, assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, OSHA's fiscal year 2011 budget will enable the organization to conduct more than 3,000 additional inspections throughout the year.

In addition to the stress associated with heightened OSHA inspections, many plant and safety managers are facing company-wide mandates to reduce costs in every aspect of their operations. Personal protective equipment (PPE) often becomes the target for these cost-cutting measures because decision makers may not fully understand the impact of PPE changes on worker safety.

Safety managers are asked by purchasing managers why they want a particular PPE product when a similar-looking product is available at a cost of 10 to 25 percent less. Even though the latter product may have a lower purchase price, it may not perform as well, which can lead to increased worker injuries and lower productivity. Choosing products that are designed to provide the protection needed for specific tasks will help encourage compliance and decrease the likelihood of companies incurring costly OSHA citations and fines.


Recently, 151 safety, plant and human resource managers and others who participated in an educational webinar on PPE were asked what types of hand injuries are most common at their companies/facilities. The responses were:

* Cuts and lacerations 133
* Contusions and pinching 55
* Repetitive motion injuries 52
* Chemical exposure 27
* Dermatitis 17
* Vibration syndrome 6

These responses do not include minor cuts and scrapes that may require a visit to the plant nurse. Even if no major medical expenses are incurred, the injuries still may cost time and money and negatively impact a company's productivity and its bottom line. Allergies — particularly latex allergies — also can disrupt employee job performance and may result in companies seeking products made with synthetics and other alternative materials.

The respondents also were asked: Why do you feel injuries occur at your company/facility? Here are their resposes:

  • Workers are not wearing PPE (non-compliant) — 87
  • Workers have the wrong PPE for the task — 21
  • PPE does not provide the level of protection needed — 16
  • Workers rotate jobs — 15
  • Manufacturing process changes — 7
  • PPE has reached the end of its serviceable life — 5


The survey responses confirm that workers who are injured often are not wearing PPE. The question then becomes, how can a company provide workers with protective products that they are willing to wear and that will keep them safe, productive and compliant while meeting management mandates for cost reductions?

The cost of hand injuries at a transportation industry manufacturing facility surpassed $1.4 million in 2008 and resulted in a corporate mandate to reduce operating costs. Ansell conducted a comprehensive PPE assessment at the company's plant location, which revealed that workers were using seven different styles of gloves and many individuals worked barehanded.

The assessment indicated that most injuries occurred while workers handled knives and shears as part of their jobs. Many tasks also involved heat. Because the plant had no glove controls in place, workers were allowed open access to hand protection products throughout their shifts. The work force was mature and many individuals demonstrated a resistance to change.

Based on recommendations implemented as a result of the PPE assessment, the plant downsized to three styles of cut-resistant gloves, with the styles selected based on worker input. Training meetings conducted throughout the plant educated workers about how to use the new gloves and informed them of each product's advantages. Glove boards placed at strategic locations reinforced the educational message.

The facility also initiated a recycling program, with products that needed laundering collected and picked up by the launderer. Depending on the products' condition, gloves were either cleaned, repackaged and returned to the plant for recirculation or were declared too worn to justify laundering. The cost of laundering was approximately 5 to 10 percent of the replacement costs and most gloves were laundered once.

After the above changes were implemented, the plant tracked $700,000 in reduced injuries and $200,000 in PPE cost savings during 2009. Ongoing savings continue to be tracked.

Here are the lessons learned at the facility that can translate to your company:

Make safety the No. 1 priority — No matter what the application, worker safety always should remain a company's primary concern, whether workers need protection from cut hazards, chemicals, noise, falls, heat or cold. If companies select products such as gloves to protect workers from cuts, decision makers must understand the application for which the product will be used, the level of protection required and the specific cut standard in the associated country.

In the European market, for example, gloves are evaluated for cut levels according to EN 388, the mandatory performance standard as regulated by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN). The United States uses method F1790 for evaluation, which was developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and has been adopted by ISO as an international standard.

Safety managers should understand the differences in these test standards and the real-life performance of a specific product (through practical trials) when evaluating PPE. This knowledge will enable them make a well-informed decision and choose the optimum product to meet the job requirements.

Examine functionality — All PPE should help workers perform their jobs. Depending upon the application, gloves, for example, may need to provide certain levels of dexterity, tactile sensitivity or grip to enhance worker productivity. PPE also should provide adequate levels of protection to the end of the product's projected service life to ensure worker safety.

Consider personal factors — PPE products that are comfortable and fit well will encourage workers to wear the products for long periods and help ensure compliance. Many glove manufacturers have added half sizes to their product offerings to meet specific market requirements. Managers should keep in mind that glove sizes can change during laundering, which could affect worker comfort.

Demand quality products — High quality, branded PPE can help improve worker performance and potentially offer a longer service life. Even though quality PPE may cost more initially, it may cost less in the long term as workers benefit from added protection. Companies often can extend the service life of PPE products such as gloves and apparel by laundering them.

Test and verify all PPE products — Don't take a supplier's word about how well certain PPE products will perform. Confirm products' performance level by conducting small-scale tests within your plant or consult with third-party researchers.


Many companies give workers the freedom to decide when to dispose of gloves and other PPE and replace them with new items. While workers often enjoy this flexibility, the practice has proven costly since individuals typically have no guidelines regarding glove disposal and may discard PPE that is still highly serviceable.

Workers, for example, may decide to get new gloves from a tool crib every time they take a break or change jobs. Or, they may believe they need new gloves every time the gloves they are wearing becomes slightly soiled. This lack of control often leads to higher glove usage, which can cost more.

Implementing a system that requires workers to be more accountable by returning used PPE and signing out new PPE may eliminate premature disposal. This type of system also helps management ensure that workers are wearing the right PPE for the task.

Vending machines are another option to help control PPE usage and disposal. Employees swipe their badge to receive the proper hand protection or other PPE for their task or area. The machines allow management to monitor how many gloves employees wear (or do not wear), which can help drive compliance.


Companies can reduce PPE costs by laundering products such as gloves and apparel, providing long-term savings depending on the initial product costs and the number of times the product can be laundered. A company can greatly reduce its costs if it pays $20 for each pair of gloves it provides to 100 workers. Laundering the product twice (at 60 cents per laundry cycle) will cost $1.20, compared to the expense of product replacement.

The number of times a product can be laundered will depend on the application in which it is used, how soiled the product was prior to laundering and the level of soil removed during laundering. Most glove and apparel manufacturers provide laundering instructions for their products since improper laundering can compromise a product's protective qualities.

Safety managers must make well-informed decisions to ensure they are choosing the optimum product for the task, which will help keep operational and injury expenses to a minimum. The right PPE also will decrease the potential for injuries that may result from introducing inferior products on the shop floor.

Lower-quality PPE products that have unsubstantiated claims about protective abilities actually can cost more in the long term in the form of greater injuries, lower productivity and non-compliance. Companies can avoid expensive OSHA fines by providing workers with PPE from reputable manufacturers who back their products with research, testing and service.

A comprehensive, plant-wide PPE assessment can identify unexpected opportunities to reduce PPE costs while providing workers with the highest level of on-the-job protection. A comprehensive assessment also can help plant facilities evaluate maintenance, repair and operating expenses against operational impact to achieve a profitable balance.

Brian Perry is the national corporate accounts manager for Ansell Protective Products Inc. For more information about hand protection products and solutions, visit Ansell will host a live online chat discussing how to encourage worker compliance at Feb. 4 at 2 p.m. Chat participants must be members of the online community, which is free to join. New members will need to get their login and usernames before the chat.

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