MRO Magazine

Survey finds high rate of non-compliance with using safety equipment on the job

Roswell, GA - A total of 89% of safety professionals said they had observed workers not wearing safety equipment when they should have been, according to a new survey released by Kimberly-Clark Professional. Twenty-nine per cent said this had...

Health & Safety

August 10, 2011
By MRO Magazine

Roswell, GA – A total of 89% of safety professionals said they had observed workers not wearing safety equipment when they should have been, according to a new survey released by Kimberly-Clark Professional. Twenty-nine per cent said this had happened on numerous occasions.

“This high rate of noncompliance with PPE protocols presents a serious threat to worker health and safety,” said Gina Tsiropoulos, manufacturing segment marketing manager for Kimberly-Clark Professional. “While the reasons for noncompliance are varied, the threat to workers is clear-cut. Without the proper use of PPE, they are at risk of serious injury or even death.”

Government health and safety regulations requires the use of personal protective equipment to reduce employee exposure to hazards when engineering and administrative controls are not feasible or effective. Yet, data shows that of workers who sustained a variety of on-the-job injuries, the vast majority were not wearing PPE (personal protective equipment).

The survey found that 78% of respondents said workplace accidents and injuries were the concerns most likely to keep them up at night.


Worker compliance with safety protocols was also cited as the top workplace safety issue. Twenty-eight per cent of respondents chose this, while 21% selected “fewer workers.” “Insufficient management support for health and safety functions” and “meeting the safety needs of an aging workforce” tied at 18%. Lack of funds to implement safety programs was last at 8%.

Given the importance of PPE in ensuring worker safety, the survey examined the reasons for such high levels of non-compliance. Of those respondents who observed PPE non-compliance in the workplace, 69% said the primary cause was workers thinking that PPE wasn’t needed. This was followed by these other reasons:

– Uncomfortable

– Too hot

– Poor fit

– Not available near work task

– Unattractive looking.

What measures have safety managers taken or plan to take in the near future to encourage greater PPE compliance? The top strategies were: improving existing education and training programs (61%) and increased monitoring of employees (48%). These were followed by:

– Purchasing more comfortable PPE

– Tying compliance to individual performance evaluations

– Purchasing more stylish PPE

– Developing incentive programs.

Most challenging PPE

When it comes to compliance with PPE protocols, eye protection was found to be the “most challenging” PPE category, according to 24% of respondents. This was a disturbing though not unexpected finding, considering that nearly three out of five workers who experienced eye injuries were found not to be wearing eye protection at the time of the accident or were wearing the wrong kind of eye protection for the job. Add to this the fact that that thousands of workers are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries that could have been prevented and the magnitude of the problem becomes clear.

The next highest category for non-compliance was hearing protection (18%) – another disturbing finding since occupational noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable when proper measures are implemented. It was followed by respiratory protection/masks (17%), protective apparel (16%), gloves (14%), and head protection (4%).

Potential exposure to heavy metals

Because some workplace hazards can’t be addressed by PPE, respondents were also asked about the potential health and safety issues posed by re-usable rental shop towels. Ninety-one per cent said they would be concerned if they found that oil, grease, heavy metal residues or other toxic elements were in their reusable rental shop towels in levels that exceeded regulatory health-based exposure limits. Of these, 57% said they would be very concerned. Only 3% said they would not be very concerned and not a single respondent said they would not be concerned at all.

Eighty-one per cent of respondents indicated they were aware of the fact that industrial workers could transfer dangerous metals, like lead and cadmium, to their hands and clothes from rental shop towels and then potentially ingest them and/or bring these toxins home to their families, by correctly answering that this statement was true and not false. Forty-four per cent said they knew that heavy metals could make their way into a facility’s operations via laundered rental shop towels from other companies’ manufacturing processes, while 36% did not.

“These findings are in keeping with the results of a new study that found elevated levels of heavy metals in tested laundered shop towels, which could result in worker exposures that exceed various health-based criteria,” said Tsiropoulos.

“The study by Gradient, an environmental and risk science consulting firm, also found that workers may be exposed to metals that do not otherwise exist in their work environment because laundered towels are often delivered to different companies each time they are laundered for reuse.”

The survey also asked respondents to weigh in on environmental topics. When questioned about wiping products and the environment, 55% said that laundered shop towels that pollute the water with toxic elements, such as oil, grease and heavy metal residues, had a greater environmental impact than disposable shop towels that are sent to landfill. As for what their organizations were doing to be more environmentally responsible, two choices stood out above all others: recycling more and reducing consumption of resources, such as water or energy. Asking vendors to demonstrate the environmental benefits of their products or services came in third.

Disaster preparedness

In the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and other natural disasters around the globe, the survey asked about whether organizations had plans in place to prepare for a disaster or pandemic. For the majority of respondents, the answer was yes, 67% said they had a formal workplace continuity plan and 42% said they had cross-trained personnel to perform essential functions. Eighteen per cent said they did not have contingency plans for either a natural disaster or pandemic.

Survey methodology

The survey of 119 people was conducted over the Internet from June 10, 2011 through July 11, 2011. All survey respondents said they were responsible for purchasing, selecting or influencing the purchase or selection of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or industrial wiping solutions. Sixty-three per cent were safety directors or managers, while the other 37% were industrial hygienists, facilities or general managers, environmental managers or held other positions. They were employed in the following fields: construction/utilities; chemical/plastics manufacturing; metal manufacturing; food processing; computer, electronics and electrical product manufacturing; transportation equipment manufacturing or other fields.