Debbie Janson, Senior Lecturer of Engineering Management at the University of Bath looks at what a vehicle recycling organisation should consider for their workforce to ensure their physical and mental well-being, as well as their safety, is taken care of when it comes to personal protective equipment (PPE).
There is so much focus these days on having mentally healthy workers. But what if your PPE could help? PPE is the last line of protection – it’s there to protect workers when things go wrong. But what if those workers don’t feel safe or entirely comfortable in their PPE, even when things are going right? What if their PPE is actually causing them physical harm such as digging in, bruising and blistering? And how does this impact their mental health?
Legally, an organisation may have ticked all the boxes when it comes to providing PPE, but could they do more? How often do staff audits occur to check the PPE that’s provided is worn or that it fits and is comfortable? How many people are buying their own PPE to ensure that it actually fits because the “standard issue” doesn’t? How many people have just begrudgingly accepted their organisation’s price limit on their safety footwear and had to go with something that’s not quite as comfortable as it could have been for the sake of their employer paying a little extra?
Isn’t it time we started looking after employees “from the boots up”?
If we really want to show employees we care, we should do as much as we can to help their well-being. We should be taking every practical step we can to make sure appropriate PPE does not only protect employees but that they feel safe and comfortable in their work. Employees shouldn’t need to feel anxious or stressed or that their safety is compromised due to ill-fitting or uncomfortable PPE; they shouldn’t feel depressed because their feet have been hurting day after day whilst wearing their company-issue safety boots. However, this situation is more common than we might think. Nearly two-thirds of women find their safety footwear less comfortable than their regular footwear, but so do nearly half of men. And given that there is a mass of evidence showing that men are historically less likely to speak up about mental health issues, how likely are men to report problems with their PPE? We only know about safety footwear because we asked, but what about your workforce’s PPE in general, day in, day out, how is it affecting them?
The Health & Safety Executive reported that 17.9 million working days were lost in 2019/20 to mental health conditions in the UK. Every worker who suffered took 21.6 days of leave when stress, anxiety or depression was reported as the cause. It’s impossible to estimate how much if any of this is attributable to PPE, but a build-up of micro frustrations associated with inappropriate PPE will almost certainly not help.
Some will say this link is nonsense or tenuous at best, but think about the last time you wore uncomfortable shoes or clothes, even for a social event; short term discomfort and fit can effortlessly affect you, and that’s without safety even being a factor.
So back to business, sure, this will most likely cost more. But what’s the trade-off? Happier and safer workers? Increased attendance? We don’t even need to do the maths: for the incremental cost difference, the benefits can be staggering. Investing in your people by choosing the right PPE not only leads to a more engaged and productive workforce, but if better PPE can genuinely reduce workers’ stress and anxiety in the workplace, the benefit is plain to see.
If you would like advice from Debbie, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org