Personal Protective Equipment – how do I get my staff to use?

Legally the PCBU (your business) is required to provide suitable personal protective equipment, information and training to your workers when dealing with certain hazards in the workplace.  Examples of hazards include excessive noise, ultra-violet light (sun), hazardous substances (chemicals),  and radiation.

Make it a condition of their work

To remove any doubt over this matter, make the use of safety equipment and clothing a condition of employment by including a clause in the employment agreement.  Personal protective equipment includes anything used to protect against the effects of contamination or physical harm. Some typical examples:

  • Clothing to cover the body (such as overalls and aprons)
  • Footwear with steel caps (shoes and boots)
  • Items to protect hands and feet (such as gloves and safety boots)
  • Breathing protection devices (such as dust masks or air-fed or canister respirators)
  • Hearing protection devices (such as earmuffs and earplugs)
  • Eye safety protection (such as safety glasses and goggles)
  • Head protection (such as hard hats)
  • Safety harnesses and related equipment

Overcoming staff reluctance

Some staff may not want to wear safety gear; they may decide it’s unnecessary, uncomfortable, restricts their working ability or even use the excuse that it’s ugly.

Wearing safety gear should be commonsense, but commonsense is not always first and foremost in people’s minds. It’s important to remind staff they have a responsibility to protect their own health and safety and that of their work mates, particularly where safety procedures and guidelines are already in place.

Explaining to staff exactly what can happen in the case of an accident can help them understand how an apparently minor accident can change their lives forever. For example, a tiny sliver of steel flying off a cold chisel struck by a hammer can cause permanent loss of sight in a person not wearing protective goggles.

Consider using the ‘Four E’s’: Educate, Enable, Engage and Enforce to encourage employees to use safety gear and clothing. The first three are about giving employees the opportunity to participate in health and safety decisions. This also gives you an opportunity to develop relationships and show staff you have their health and safety at heart.

  1. Educate

Explain to employees how hazards such as noise, dust, fumes, chemicals or heights can affect their health or safety, how the equipment protects them, and when to use it. You need to point out that the effects of many hazards are not immediate. For example, loud noise may cause hearing loss that only affects the employee years later.

  1. Enable

Give them gear that’s suitable for the purpose and that fits. It’s not a matter of ‘one size fits all’ and some styles have a more acceptable ‘look’. Employees also need to be trained to use the safety gear correctly.

  1. Engage

Talk with employees. Are there issues that lead to a reluctance to use the gear? Is it uncomfortable, bulky or hard to move round in? If so, what can be done about it? Did they have a choice in the selection of safety gear? People are more likely to use gear they’ve chosen. Do they consider it ‘not cool’ or not ‘manly’ to use it? If so, where does this viewpoint come from? Are you (or the supervisor) wearing it to set an example?

  1. Enforce

Finally, if all else fails, explain that the law requires you to provide gear that protects employees against hazards that can’t be controlled in any other way. You’re required to make sure they use it. Ensure they understand that wearing protective gear is not an optional extra.

Remember to monitor safety practices

It’s one matter to get everyone committed to wearing safety gear. It’s another to ensure that they keep on wearing it. Over time, people can get careless, forget, or simply take dangerous shortcuts, perhaps when they’re tired or near the end of a shift.

Make it a responsibility for your managers and supervisors to check that employees always wear their safety gear. Walking around the workplace yourself from time to time is another way to check that people are complying.

Make it convenient for employees to find the gear and ensure it is kept clean and in good working order.

Where a worksite has significant hazards that could result in injury to an employee’s feet, the employer must provide suitable safety boots (or other suitable protective footwear) at no cost to the employee.