Placing a life in harm's way

June 1, 2007
IF there is one thing all workplace safety experts agree on, it is the need for proper protective equipment when undertaking hazardous tasks. Yet 85 percent

IF there is one thing all workplace safety experts agree on, it is the need for proper protective equipment when undertaking hazardous tasks.

Yet 85 percent of safety professionals surveyed by Kimberly-Clark Professional at the National Safety Council (NSC) Congress in November 2006 said they had observed people in their organizations failing to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when they should have been. Nearly half said this happened often, while 38 percent described these occurrences as infrequent.

In addition:

  • 66 percent of safety professionals said PPE compliance was an issue within their organizations.

  • 40 percent described it as a “major concern” that they were attempting to correct.

  • 57 percent of respondents who observed PPE non-compliance in the workplace said the workers attributed this to poor fit or discomfort.

What was the main reason for non-compliance? A feeling of invulnerability, as in: “An accident won't happen to me.” This was selected by nearly one third of respondents from a list of choices. Other reasons were:

  • Lack of awareness of workplace hazards.

  • Lack of training on how to don, doff, and use PPE.

  • Ill-fitting uncomfortable garments.

  • Lack of “breathability” and inadequate supplies.

Comfort most important criterion

Survey respondents were also asked about the most important criteria for selecting PPE for workers. The number one response was comfort. This was followed by quality, availability, and fit. Price and size selection came in last.

Providing answers to their problems and meeting their needs were the chief reasons for choosing a company to supply PPE products, according to more than three quarters of respondents. Offering a product bundle for a one-stop shopping experience and delivering head-to-toe protection took second and third place. They were followed by carrying well-known brand name products, just-in-time delivery, and selling specific niche items.

The most important feature in glove selection was “the ability to conduct tasks involving dexterity and/or fine motor skills,” according to nearly one third of respondents. However, 43 percent said all the choices in a list provided to them were equally important. These included “dexterity and/or fine motor skills,” as well as fit, cut resistance, chemical resistance, working as well in wet conditions as dry, and resistance to pathogens.

“These survey results demonstrate that comfort really does drive compliance,” said Randy Kates, general manager of the Kimberly-Clark Professional Safety Business. “If PPE is uncomfortable or doesn't fit right, workers may modify or not wear it properly to minimize discomfort, which may then compromise protection.”

The survey also polled safety professionals about safety issues. The top three workplace issues, selected from a list of choices, were:

  • Insufficient management support and/or resources for health and safety functions.

  • Underreporting of workplace injuries and illnesses.

  • Worker compliance with safety protocols.

In another question, 43 percent of respondents answered “yes“ when asked whether they were concerned about any potential health and safety issues posed by reusable rental shop towels that may contain chemical residues even after they are “freshly laundered.“ Of this group, 21 percent described themselves as “very concerned,“ and 22 percent said they were “somewhat concerned.“ Forty-five percent said they were not concerned about this issue.

Survey methodology

The survey was undertaken Nov 7, 2006, at the NSC Congress in San Diego CA. Survey questionnaires were filled out by 158 safety professionals who reported being responsible for purchasing, selecting, or influencing the purchase or selection of, or compliance with, PPE. Respondents were from these fields: industrial manufacturing, construction, hazmat, emergency response, clean manufacturing, laboratories, medical, health care, military, and law enforcement. Visit for full survey results.

Based in Roswell GA, Kimberly-Clark Professional is one of Kimberly-Clark Corp's four business segments.