ROSWELL, GA – U.S. workers are risking workplace injuries by not complying with important safety procedures, according to a survey released today by Kimberly-Clark Professional.
The survey found that 89 percent of safety professionals polled at the 2008 National Safety Council (NSC) Congress have observed workers failing to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when they should have been.
"We find it disheartening that people continue to put themselves at risk by failing to wear PPE when undertaking hazardous tasks," says Randy Kates, general manager of the safety business for Kimberly-Clark Professional. "Despite the importance of PPE, there is still an unacceptably high rate of noncompliance in the workplace."
This is the third consecutive year that the Kimberly-Clark survey has revealed a high rate of PPE noncompliance. In 2007, 87 percent of respondents said they had observed PPE noncompliance in the workplace, while 85 percent answered yes to this question in 2006.
Given the high rate of noncompliance over the past three years, it is not surprising that when asked to name the top workplace safety issue in their facilities one third of respondents cited worker compliance with safety protocols. Next was insufficient management support and/or resources for health and safety functions (27 percent). Under-reporting of workplace injuries and illnesses was third (14 percent), followed by training a multilingual, multicultural workforce (7 percent) and escalating worker compensation costs (5 percent).
Is the Economy a Factor?
One potential explanation for continuing problems with compliance could be the economy. Thirty-four percent of respondents said the economy had affected worker safety training programs or resources. Fifty-nine percent said it had not. Of those who said the economy had impacted safety training or resources, the survey found that:
- 63 percent said it had led to less money for education and training.
- 42 percent said it had resulted in reduced personnel to handle safety training tasks.
- 33 percent said the faltering economy had led to business concerns taking precedence over safety concerns.
This year’s survey also polled safety professionals about the steps they have taken or intend to take to encourage greater PPE compliance. The top response was "improving existing education and training programs," followed by "purchasing more comfortable PPE." Increased monitoring of employees was third, followed by tying compliance to individual performance evaluations and purchasing more stylish PPE.
"Work-related injuries in the U.S. cost more than $50 billion a year," says Kates.* "Our research has shown that comfort and style are major drivers for compliance with PPE protocols. In the current economic climate it is more important than ever to invest in PPE that workers will want to wear." (* Source: Liberty Mutual)
Focus on Environmental Sustainability
The environment was another topic covered in this year’s survey. Fifty-nine percent of respondents reported that their companies had formal corporate sustainability goals, while 22 percent said they did not. (Twenty percent said they did not know the answer to this question.) Respondents from companies with corporate sustainability goals were asked what their facilities were doing to become more environmentally responsible. The top choice was reducing the waste generated by a facility’s processes.
It was followed by:
- Reducing energy consumption.
- Reducing the waste associated with supplies and other items that they purchased.
- Reducing water consumption.
All respondents were asked what their facilities had done to encourage or require suppliers to assist them in becoming more environmentally responsible. The top selection was increasing the amount of recycled content in the products supplied to them (39 percent). Tied for second place were: reducing packaging materials for the products supplied to them and having suppliers "demonstrate or state/warrant that they have environmentally responsible business practices" (29 percent). Close behind was delivering more products at one time to reduce fuel usage (27 percent). Only 6 percent of respondents said environmental responsibility was not a major concern for their organizations. (For this question, respondents were allowed to select more than one answer.)
When asked if they were concerned about the potential health and safety issues for their workers posed by oil, grease, heavy metal residues or toxic elements on re-usable rental shop towels, 63 percent of respondents answered yes. This compares with 73 percent of respondents answering yes to the same question in 2007.
When asked what might encourage them to switch from re-usable rental shop towels to disposable wipers, the survey found:
- 35 percent of respondents cited concerns about the health and safety issues mentioned above.
- 28 percent chose a closed loop solution for disposable wipers, in which used wipers are recycled or converted to energy and diverted from landfills.
- 10 percent were concerned about water pollution from laundering re-usable rental shop towels.
- 29 percent said they did not use rental shop towels.
This year respondents were asked to describe their personal safety philosophy from a list of choices. Two responses tied for first place: "Safety doesn’t" (43 percent each). Only 10 percent selected the statement "Safety begins and ends at the top" and just two percent chose "Safety is a pain, but so is my boss."
"These results did not surprise us," says Scott Gaddis, global safety leader for Kimberly-Clark Professional. "Workplace safety must be managed like every other strategic business objective that is important to an organization’s success."
The survey was undertaken at the NSC Congress in Anaheim, CA, on Sept. 23, 2008. The survey questionnaires were filled out by 153 safety professionals who reported being responsible for purchasing, selecting or influencing the purchase or selection of, or compliance with, PPE. The respondents included safety directors and managers, industrial hygienists, environmental managers and purchasing professionals. For full survey results, visit www.kcprofessional.com/us/mkt/2008nscpressrelease.