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Fighting PPE Complacency

In the fast-paced world of utility work, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “This is just a quick job” or “I’ve done this a thousand times.” These thoughts can lead to complacency and poor decision-making around proper personal protective equipment use, including flame-resistant and arc-rated apparel. In this month’s Tailgate Topic, we’ll explore how to combat such complacency.

Many utility job tasks carry inherent risks, whether it’s working near live electrical equipment or navigating challenging terrain. Regular training sessions serve as invaluable opportunities to reinforce safety protocols. These sessions should cover the correct use of PPE as well as delve into the rationale behind the need for it.

Additionally, familiarizing workers with the standards that their PPE must meet will enhance their comprehension of electrical safety guidelines and emphasize the critical role of PPE in mitigating risks. Simple reminders – like the fact that OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269 makes it mandatory for electrical utility workers to wear FR/AR apparel in certain environments – are also helpful.

Further, reminding workers of the potential consequences of PPE noncompliance underscores the gravity of safety lapses and the importance of adhering to PPE protocols. Electrical accidents, falls and other incidents can have severe and life-altering ramifications.

Setting the Example
Field supervisors and team leaders play pivotal roles in promoting a strong culture of safety. By consistently wearing the proper PPE for the environment, management sets positive examples for workers to emulate.

In recent years, the FR/AR clothing marketplace has seen an increased interest in high-visibility daily-wear shirts versus the more traditional use of task-based high-visibility vests. High-visibility vests have several potential pitfalls. As a safety leader, you must ask yourself, will the worker put it on at the appropriate time, especially in hot weather, which would make for an extra layer? Are they putting on a vest that has FR/AR properties or is there the potential they could accidentally grab a flammable vest? Are they wearing the vest properly? Are they wearing appropriately rated FR/AR clothing under the vest? By modeling the use of correctly worn and preferred PPE, leaders can impact safety culture without saying a word.

Another idea is to consider a switch in the types of FR/AR apparel that are available to your workers; this is an operational decision that could counterbalance PPE complacency. For example, mandating daily FR/AR wear – rather than task-based garments, like the high-visibility vest mentioned above – takes some of the human error out of the equation and will help to prevent injury.

Garment fit also plays an important role in the effectiveness of clothing and a worker’s desire to wear it. If a shirt, pair of pants or other garment is too big or too small, the worker may be less likely to reach for it when getting ready for a job. Conducting fit tests and effectively communicating the importance of proper fit – including giving workers the option to size up or down – can make some of the decision-making easier for employees.

Keep in mind that acknowledging achievements in safety compliance fosters a positive work environment and reinforces the significance of prioritizing safety. Whether celebrating milestones without lost-time incidents or the implementation of new safety initiatives, such recognition highlights the collective efforts invested in upholding safety standards. And the more leaders and colleagues acknowledge safe decision-making, the more common it typically becomes.

Combating PPE complacency demands concerted effort from workers at all levels of an organization. By cultivating a safety-conscious culture, providing ongoing education and training, and emphasizing the importance of PPE compliance, employers and employees can effectively mitigate or eliminate hazards.

Through adoption of these strategies, utility leaders can sustain engagement on the job and uphold safety as a fundamental aspect of the work, helping to ensure the well-being of all team members throughout their endeavors.

About the Author: Scott Francis serves as a technical manager for Westex: A Milliken Brand. He earned a master’s degree in inorganic chemistry and has been involved with the safety industry for more than 30 years, gaining extensive experience in protective apparel fabrics and programs. Reach him at