Chain of Thought

Too many unfaithful to safety

No matter how much we and other material handling media outlets preach about establishing a culture of safety, many companies still live by a culture of cost avoidance. For them, time is money and it can't be frittered away on something whose payback is as intangible as safety training.

This must be terribly frustrating for safety professionals in those organizations—if there are any. There were plenty of them attending the American Society of Safety Engineers' (ASSE) show in Baltimore recently. Judging by a survey of 132 of them, conducted by Kimberly-Clark Professional, frustration may be an understatement. Ninety-eight percent of them answered “yes” when asked if they had observed workers not wearing safety equipment when they should have been.

Thirty percent of these respondents said this had happened on numerous occasions. In fact, “worker compliance with personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols” was cited as the top workplace safety issue by all survey respondents.

The “most challenging” PPE category, according to 42 percent of respondents, was eye care. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly three out of five workers who experienced eye injuries were found not to be wearing eye protection at the time of the accident or were wearing the wrong kind of eye protection for the job. Add to this the fact that, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, about 2,000 U.S. workers each day have a job-related eye injury requiring medical treatment.

Why are employees so cavalier about wearing protective equipment? Because it's “uncomfortable,” 40 percent of these safety professionals responded. Other reasons included “too hot,” “not available near the work task,” “poor fit,” and “unattractive looking.” Heaven forbid that employees feel like nerds at work.

When asked what they had done or intended to do to improve compliance levels, these safety professionals' top choice was to improve existing education and training programs.

That's a great idea, but many facility managers don't want to pay the time or money for such programs. That's both a threat and an opportunity. It's a threat because those companies are destined to get whacked by lost-time injuries. It's an opportunity for local school systems to build occupational safety into their vocational education programs and provide pre-trained job candidates to companies like that in their area.

That's Al Will's thinking, anyway. Al is a retired Marine Colonel and a member of our magazine's new Editorial Advisory Board. You'll read more about and by Al in our September issue when we're officially "Material Handling & Logistics," but I couldn't resist giving you a preview of the article he wrote for that issue, since it's about this very topic of safety and training. Here's his take on the topic:

“Formally trained employees have already developed a mindset of ‘safety first' and are proficient in basic equipment operations. Safe operation not only minimizes injury to personnel but also reduces the damage to inventory and physical plant caused by careless or inexperienced operators using material handling equipment. Some firms estimate they lose as much as 1% of their total inventory value to damage through careless operation. Eliminating loss caused by damage is a quantifiable cost savings to the company.”

So, if the opinions of 132 safety professionals didn't sway you to take a second look at your company's culture of safety,” I hope the insights of one Marine will change your mind. After all, if your employees are always safe, they'll always be faithful.

Semper fi.

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