The Case for PPE: Protecting Workers and Your Bottom Line from Costly Injuries and Penalties

The overall benefits of a strong personal protective equipment (PPE) program are quite profound. For a relatively small investment in proper equipment, you can minimize exceedingly costly injuries and excessive OSHA penalties, as well as boost workplace morale and productivity.

Although the big push is currently on saving money and reducing expenses, every employer needs to understand why stepping up the efforts toward a better PPE program is worthwhile and even vital.

The Impact of PPE on Injury Rates

According to NIOSH statistics, there are approximately 2,000 daily reported eye injuries in the workplace and roughly a third of these are serious, requiring emergency medical care. Common sources of work-related eye injuries include ocular contact with dust, small particulates, chemicals or objects. In most cases, eye injuries can be prevented (or significantly minimized) when employees wear the correct personal protective equipment.

In one study cited by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Work Injury Reports (WIR), as many as 70 percent of work-related hand injuries could have been prevented if workers were wearing gloves, while the remaining 30 percent of injuries resulted from wearing poorly selected or damaged equipment. Likewise, eye, head and foot injuries were also evaluated in depth, with similar conclusions discovered.

Apart from the impact injuries have on workers’ health and wellbeing, these events are fiscally detrimental to the workplace. A few too many foot, head, hand or eye injuries and employers can find themselves in a high-risk insurance pool.

Additionally, excessive injuries can trigger OSHA inspections and incite penalties.

Compliance Avoids Excessive Penalties

Because PPE has been demonstrated to effectively prevent so many injuries, OSHA practices strict enforcement tactics on employers who are not adhering to personal protective equipment standards.

The most commonly cited areas under PPE standards include the following:

  • Failure to conduct or inadequate PPE hazard assessment
  • Inadequacies in PPE written programs
  • Medical evaluations not completed (such as for hearing protection or respirators)
  • Employees not wearing PPE

Of these “commonly cited areas” – employees not wearing PPE and employers failing to conduct hazard assessments result in the majority of penalties.

In 2009, OSHA adopted a tougher enforcement policy that allows for “per employee” citations, instead of a single penalty for non-compliance.

Under the new “per employee/per instance” enforcement policy, if OSHA inspects a facility and discovers 10 workers not wearing necessary personal protective equipment, the agency can deliver 10 separate citations.  Therefore, the costs to non-compliant employers can increase exponentially.

To apply the “per employee/per instance” citations, the violations must be classified as willful and meet at least one of these requirements:

  • Violation resulted in worker fatalities, a worksite catastrophe or a large number of injuries or illnesses.
  • Violations resulted in persistently high rates of worker injuries or illnesses.
  • Employer has an extensive history of prior OSHA violations.
  • Employer has intentionally disregarded its OSHA responsibilities.
  • Employer’s conduct taken as a whole amounts to clear bad faith in the performance of its OSHA duties.
  • Employer has committed a large number of violations that significantly undermine the effectiveness of any OSHA safety or health program that might be in place.

Remember, under OSHA, employers must first try to eliminate hazards. If a hazard can’t be completely removed, the next step is to use engineering controls, (such as machine guarding) to protect workers from that hazard.

But when engineering controls aren’t feasible, PPE is utilized to protect workers. OSHA considers PPE to be a visible sign a hazard exists and it’s often the only thing that separates employees from a workplace danger.  Eliminating or skimping on PPE is akin to stripping a worker of all protection according to OSHA. Hence, non-compliant employers (especially those deemed “willful”) are penalized accordingly.

Other considerations

When creating your PPE program, also consider the safety of visitors and vendors that frequent your location.

Developing a policy that requires safety glasses and safety shoes for all individuals entering the facility can maintain a healthful environment and help prevent additional injuries.

And you don’t have to spend a fortune enforcing this policy if you keep a supply of Wilkuro Safety Toes on hand for unprepared visitors.

A leader in the safety industry, Wilkuro Safety Toes provides employees and visitors at your company with optimum toe protection for the working environment as an economical alternative to heavy, cumbersome steel toe safety shoes.

Nearly all workplaces can benefit from an enhanced PPE program. For every one dollar spent on safety, most employers see a direct return on investment of at least three dollars.  This, of course, does not reflect indirect costs (such as decreased productivity due to accidents or hefty OSHA penalties incurred for non-compliance). PPE is clearly an investment worth making.


Content of this blog may not apply to your situation and is for informational use only. Always consult  a qualified occupational health and safety professional in your jurisdiction who understands your unique safety challenges. It is the responsibility of the customer to ensure that any product purchased is appropriate protection for the intended use.

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