Unsuitable PPE

Information is trickling out about Paul Quinlivan’s decision to repeatedly not wear PPE.  A common reason for workers to not wear personal protective equipment is that it does not suit the individual.  Quinlivan says he kept removing his goggles because they kept fogging up.

Goggles must retain their visibility for them to function.  Fogging up may indicate that the goggles are the wrong type for the work being undertaken or for that work environment.  Frequently business want one type of PPE to be applicable to a range of circumstances and this may not be a reasonable expectation.Workers often choose not to wear PPE because it is not comfortable.  It may be too tight or create discomfort by, in the case of footwear, not being supportive of feet and legs when the worker must stand all day.  The safety glasses may pinch behind the ears on one worker even though everyone else finds them comfortable.  Businesses must accept that there is sufficient variation in personal shapes and needs that a limited selection of PPE may encourage people to avoid wearing it.

The limited selection is often seen as  an acceptable trade-off to cost by the procurement officer.  This is sometimes encouraged by equipment suppliers who can provide economies of scale for uniform PPE rather than providing an acceptable price for individual items that may better suit the workforce.

Some workplaces consider it easier to provide a subsidy for workers to purchase their own PPE.  There are major advantages in this option but it must be supported by detailed criteria so that any selection meets the requirements of the job.  Any subsidy must also be aware of the changing prices of PPE and be adjusted accordingly.

Of course this option removes any possibility of discounts from bulk purchases and it may be difficult to argue on cost with the procurement officer or chief financial officer.  Such a discussion may illustrate just how serious a company’s commitment to safety really is.

It is highly likely that there is more behind the original dismissal of Quinlivan than is publicly available but of all the issues it raises, at least one is shared by countless companies and small business – all the safety equipment in the world could be supplied but it does not work if it is not worn properly.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories business, consultation, OHS, PPE, risk, safety, Uncategorized, workplaceTags , ,

2 thoughts on “Unsuitable PPE”

  1. PPE issues can be very difficult to address in the workplace. I agree with your statement that:

    \”Frequently business want one type of PPE to be applicable to a range of circumstances and this may not be a reasonable expectation.\”

    Remember that PPE is the last control in the hierarchy of controls. Did the company do their due diligence in eliminating the hazard, or installing controls? Probably not. Too often companies look to PPE as the one and only resort to protect workers, and it\’s not.

    Safety Dave

  2. Kevin,

    You indicated that Paul Quinlivan’s decision to not wear safety eyewear could have been based on the fact his eyewear kept fogging up. That was indicated in the Fairwork Australia decision reached on 8 February 2010 regarding his dismissal, the report which can be found at http://www.fwa.gov.au/decisionssigned/html/2010fwa883.htm makes interesting reading and suggests that there were more than issues of health and safety involved.

    PPE has to be suitable for the working environment and for the worker using it. According to the decision Mr Quinlivan indicated that his safety eyewear was fogging up because of the humidity level in the tank and the physical nature of the work. If this is true then the supervisor had a duty to assess the hazard posed by the fogging eyewear and address the issue.

    The issue of who supplies and pays for PPE varies greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It appears that in NSW the supply and cost of PPE appears to rest solely with the employer which means that any subsidy would have to cover the entire cost of the PPE. I have always had a concern with workers being allowed to purchase PPE on their own because of the lack of control over the quality of the PPE that comes into the workplace. It is much simpler and usually more cost effective for the employer to purchase in bulk.

    I strongly agree with your position that there has to be a wide enough range of sizes and styles of necessary PPE to ensure a proper fit and reasonable comfort for all workers who must wear the PPE required by the employer’s policies.

    Take care and have a good week.

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