Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Feasibility Over Fashion

November 10, 2011

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is rarely touted for its cosmopolitan qualities.

Not necessarily intended to be fashionable, PPE is an end user''s first defense against infectious pathogens and potentially toxic substances.

Moreover, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that PPE be worn any time cleaning and maintenance tasks are being performed.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the vast majority of those who sustained on-the-job injuries were not wearing proper PPE.

Personal protective equipment is a broad term for any protective layer or device used to create a barrier between a custodial professional and the environments and surfaces they are cleaning or otherwise maintaining.

PPE includes, but is not limited to:

  • Gloves
  • Full-face masks
  • Respirators
  • Glasses/goggles
  • Ear plugs
  • Helmets
  • Aprons.
Consequences Of Noncompliance

There are numerous consequences of not adhering to proper PPE protocols, the least of which is monetary in nature.

Sure, violations can be noted and subsequent fines levied, but the health and safety of custodial professionals is paramount.

Failing to don the proper PPE can result in skin irritations, respiratory ailments and, most unenviable, death.

Interestingly, according to a recent report by Kimberly-Clark Professional, 89 percent of safety professionals said they observed workers not wearing safety equipment when they should have been; nearly 30 percent said the instances were numerous.

"This high rate of noncompliance with PPE protocols presents a serious threat to worker health and safety," says 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."

Custodial professionals work with some of the most caustic chemicals on the market — although greener alternatives exist for many formulations today — making the availability of and training in the proper use of PPE crucial.

However, to use an old adage, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot force it to drink.

Regardless of the role played by the safety coordinator or supervisor, it is the responsibility of each and every worker to make sure they are protected.

Increasing Buy-in

Because protecting personal safety while on the job is so important, creative and fun ways to increase instances of PPE compliance should be sought.

Some ideas can include a contest that rewards those with flawless adherence to protocols, incentivized training, updated safety signage and stylish equipment.

Similar to recycling challenges on college campuses or handwashing contests in elementary schools, the teamwork mentality and self-policing nature of educational games usually increases acceptance and eventual buy-in.

It is possible that those individuals who are inconsistent with wearing PPE simply do not understand the potential outcomes of noncompliance.

Training them can change their mindframe, and backing the training with encouragement — even if it is as simple as the privilege to remain employed — will make the effort more worthwhile.

Oftentimes, facility safety signage is outdated and overlooked, decreasing its effectiveness.

Updating signage so it is bright, easily visible and in enough languages to be comprehended by everyone will help remind staffs to don their PPE.

Understanding that a majority of people who fail to wear PPE cite it''s being "uncomfortable" or "ugly" as a reason for noncompliance, some manufacturers have begun producing high-end PPE that takes comfort and fashion into account.

Giving staffs the option to wear PPE that fits properly and looks more like an accessory than it does safety equipment will make them less likely to conveniently forget their glasses or helmets, for example.

Personal protective equipment is incredibly important in the JanSan industry.

Whatever imaginative ways you need to promote PPE''s helpfulness to your workers — within management best practices, of course — do it.

At the end of the day, the important thing is that every custodial and maintenance professional on the job is safe and able to return to work the next day unscathed.