We take too much for granted…
I’ve got a couple posts in the wings that I think are pretty impactful. In the interest of making sure I give them the attention they deserve I’m going to hold back. But this topic is no less important.
It’s something I routinely emphasize when training a new group of employees. Especially those who don’t have a ton of experience (i.e. young people… this week was my birthday and i’m still bitter about no longer being able to claim I’m “young”). In order to set it up, let me generalize a little:
You take a job at an industrial site. When you show up on your first day, you’re handed a hard hat, safety glasses, safety-toed shoes, gloves and some hearing protection. You’re told to wear them every time you’re in the work area. It’s part of the uniform.
First off, the provision is commendable
Believe it or not, there are plenty of companies that couldn’t give two shits about the safety of their employees. Even in today’s uber-legal, risk adverse culture I’ve observed more organizations than I would have imagined could exist who require their people to fend for themselves and buy their own protective gear. That’s not the issue I’m addressing in this post.
Most companies do a fair job at providing what their employees need. The thing almost no one does is teach about limitations. PPE, as most safety professionals know, is the “last line of defense.” We know it, but sometimes we assume others do as well.
Unfortunately, inexperienced workers don’t have that prerequisite knowledge. The mere act of handing them a helmet and goggles can easily insinuate that protection is guaranteed.
Never assume the simple things are understood
I’m going to keep this simple and to the point. Teach your people that PPE has limitations. It’s not designed to keep you from getting injured. It’s designed to minimize consequences. You’ll still be burned from an arc flash if you’re wearing arc-rated PPE. You’ll still crick your neck if you jam your head into a pipe while wearing a hard hat. You might get chemicals in your eyes if you’re wearing goggles. Hopefully, the damage won’t mean loosing your eyesight or your life, though. People need to understand those limitations in no uncertain terms. It will help them respect the hazards they’re interacting with.
If you don’t already, consider PPE training from this perspective: it’s required because there’s a risk that can’t be removed from the work environment. When your people know that they’re much more likely to use it correctly and consistently. They’ll also understand that the hazard is still very real and very dangerous.