04th May, 2020 Read time 5 minutes

How to deal with some workers who refuse to wear PPE

Every conscientious health and safety professional wants to do everything they can to keep people safe when they turn up to work and happy when they go home. Part of many safety strategies is the curated and constant use of PPE in workplaces that are prone to or see frequent exposure to hazards. For some industries, encouraging the use of PPE is very difficult. Dealing with workers who are not wearing PPE can have a big impact on the time of managers in construction and other industries.

Construction site managers often report that one of their biggest challenges is encouraging the use of hardhats and goggles and stress that this can take up a lot of time and take them away from other safety-critical issues. Why exactly do many at work refuse to wear PPE?


1. A lack of proper education and training

One of the major reasons workers do not wear the right equipment is due to a lack of proper training, either on the benefits of PPE when it is worn or the potential dangers that are present when it is not. Dealing with this requires education, and in a wider sense the development of a better safety culture to try and encourage greater PPE uptake. This is where toolbox talks can become useful but they need to be done in the right way, without coming across as patronising.


2. Religious or medical grounds

There are some cases where the wearing of PPE has been refused based on religious grounds. Whilst the PPE at work regulations (1992) state that there are no exemptions on the wearing of PPE for religious reasons, the Employment Act (1989) does state that Sikhs, for example, can refuse to wear PPE on religious grounds. Construction sites are exempted from this regulatory issue.

If you have a worker who does refuse to wear PPE on religious grounds, try and remove them for potential hazards through tailoring their working patterns. This will help to mitigate the issue.


3. Lack of comfort when wearing the PPE

Some state that there is a lack of comfort when wearing PPE. Whilst in some cases this cannot be avoided, purchasing high-quality PPE will help to increase the comfort for the end-user. This can be coupled with a wider education on the need for PPE to try and convince workers how important wearing the right equipment is.

Evaluating the comfort of PPE through testing of the ergonomics will increase the uptake of the PPE and reduce the negative consequences. Try to make sure all types and classes of hard hats are functional both in an ergonomic and safety sense. This will help reduce the time managers have to spend dealing with workers who won’t wear PPE.


4. Reduced supervision and direction

In some industries, a lack of proper supervision can often lead to PPE not being worn correctly, if at all. This can be dealt with in two ways. You could just increase the level of supervision to try and get more workers to wear PPE. However, this may be a poor allocation of resources and can take away from the valuable time of the health and safety professionals.

Instead, you should try to create a culture in which workers feel empowered to regulate their use of PPE. This can be done through leadership for empowerment to try and create safety leaders at different levels of the organisation. This is a long-term strategy.


5. Human error in wearing PPE

Human error is present throughout the work we do in health and safety. When it comes to PPE, some may from time to time simply forget or overlook the use of personal protective equipment. The solution to this is, again a cultural one. If workers are constantly aware of a safety culture, they are more likely to actively use PPE and encourage others to do the same.


How to encourage workers to wear the correct PPE

PPE has been proven to be an effective last line of defense when it comes to the mitigation and management of workplace risks and hazards in many different industries. As a health and safety professional ensuring you are encouraging workers to wear PPE will help keep your staff safe and reduce the potential for serious injury in the event of a workplace incident.

To summarise we have outlined some of the steps you can take to try and increase the PPE compliance rate in your organisations:

  • incentivise workers to wear PPE with positive reinforcement
  • Develop a rapport with workers and softly encourage the use of PPE through communication
  • Provide PPE that is comfortable and well maintained
  • Develop regular PPE awareness training
  • Develop a holistic approach to wellbeing and safety within the company

Following these steps will help you increase the number of workers who are wearing PPE, whether you are managing the safety of people on a construction site or in other workplaces. Remember to always keep an open mind when dealing with workers who are not wearing PPE and approach them in a collaborative way to avoid a negative reaction.

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