There are a lot of reasons why workers fail to wear PPE—but none of them are good.
Why do tent installers fail to use personal protective equipment (PPE) on job sites?
That’s a great question—one without good answers. We frequently see workers on tent sites that are near to and working with loud equipment; moving long lengths of aluminum, PVC and steel around; climbing ladders; working from elevated platforms; driving tent stakes; lifting heavy loads; and hurrying to finish the day’s work.
But too many times, we see these otherwise diligent and hard workers operating without wearing PPE or following commonsense work site safety procedures. Let’s zero in on why workers on tent sites don’t wear PPE or observe safe workplace practices so we can learn how to reduce those noncompliant activities on the site and cut down on injuries, property damage and eventually, workers’ compensation claims and insurance premiums.
Reason #1: It’s a nuisance to use.
Poor excuse. An employee who has endured a painful foot injury will wear protective work boots in the future. We all wear shoes to work, so make them steel toe safety shoes. There’s no extra effort incurred, and today’s work shoes are as comfy as normal sneakers. One smashed toe or metatarsal bone in the foot is all it takes for a worker be out for weeks.
Safety glasses are easy on, easy off. One eye injury can be life-changing. Hearing protection is simple and quick to use too: just stuff the little plugs in your ear canals and you’re done. Hearing loss is a cumulative condition that will last a lifetime for workers subjected to ear-piercing work site noise without protection.
Work gloves can be cumbersome when tying knots and when working with small pieces and parts. Fine, take them off when you really need to use bare hands, but put them back on when you return to tightening or pulling ropes or using large tools like steelworkers’ spud wrenches, sledgehammers and pole horses. When you’re moving heavier items around, work gloves will help protect against injured fingers or hands. Those types of injuries can cripple a tent person for a week or more!
Fall protection (harnesses) can be worn just when working in the lift, so leave them in the lift basket for everyone to use when they’re in the air. That’s common sense.
Hard hats benefit in so many ways. Just one falling wrench, a pair of pliers falling off the top platform of an A-frame ladder that’s being moved or a swinging side pole can result in serious head wounds that are painful and expensive in terms of employee downtime, work site downtime and emergency room visits. Watch the immediate smile that comes from someone who was just spared an injury to the noggin because he or she was wearing a hard hat, and the lightbulb goes on to illuminate the reasons why we should always wear hard hats on a site.
Reason #2: Forgot to bring PPE to the site or there was none available at the shop to bring.
Either return to the shop and get the PPE needed for the crew or go to a big-box store nearby and load up on gear. Owner/manager negligence will only compound a claim made by an employee hurt on the job if the company didn’t communicate a safety plan or require employees to wear PPE.
Reason #3. It’s too hot to wear PPE.
PPE isn’t all that cumbersome or hot to wear. You’ll really feel the heat if employees get hurt because they didn’t wear PPE on a hot day. Drink more water. Add sunscreen to the PPE list when the sun’s high in the sky. Severe sunburn can sideline an employee and have long lasting effects. Skin protection
Reason #4: On a residential or private site, there won’t be any OSHA inspectors around, so we can slide by without PPE for this job.
Accidents don’t just happen on commercial or industrial sites. Base plates fall on toes, people fall from platforms and swinging poles whack people in the head anywhere, especially when space is tight or workers are tired at the end of a workday. Your customer will not be pleased if a crew member gets hurt at their home. It also opens up the possibility of a lawsuit. So suit up all the time at all work sites.
Reason #5: There was no safety meeting at the start of the work period, and generally, there is no mandate from the business owners to be safety conscious.
This may be the least defensible reason of all! By having a five-minute safety meeting at the start of the day, crews are more likely to work better together and keep an eye out for each other and for unsafe situations. Business owners and managers: if you require your teams in the warehouse and in the field to hold safety meetings, wear PPE and follow basic safety rules, you will gain the long-term respect and appreciation of your employees. Fewer injuries and accidents mean less downtime for people and equipment. Five minutes of planning saves one hour of execution.
Reason #6: Supplying PPE can get expensive.
Hmmm, let’s take a closer look at this bogus reason. Safety glasses: $10. Steel toe boots: $60. Hard hat: $20. Work gloves: $10. Hearing protection: $2. Iridescent yellow or orange safety vest: $8. Sunscreen: $10. That adds up to $120. Just one minor (and preventable) accident where stiches or a cast are needed will cost more than $1,000 to remedy, and the poor person with a new hole in the head may be unable to work for a day or a week, even though that person will still get paid for the sick leave.
Reason #7: There isn’t that much that can go wrong on a tent site, so we’re okay without all that PPE.
Really? Falls from ladders and platforms; falling nuts, bolts and hand tools; deafening power stake drivers; small eye-piercing or hand-slicing slivers of steel from damaged tent stakes or aluminum profiles; base plates dropping onto toes; and wrenched backs from lifting more than one person should lift all happen on tent sites. And these are just a few types of recurring injuries that happen in our industry. We work in dangerous situations all the time. Don’t let apathy or being accustomed to working in injury-prone situations fool you into thinking PPE isn’t so necessary!
Conducting safety meetings, wearing PPE and fall protection, taking hydration and food breaks, utilizing ropes and guy webs that are in good condition, practicing ladder and high lift safe practices and looking out for each other on the site are all activities that will reduce injuries, increase productivity and help everyone sleep well at night at the end of a long workday.
Accidents last. Safety first.
By David MacArthur, national sales manager, Losberger U.S. LLC, Frederick, Md.