The primary reason more road construction workers do not wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when needed is because employers do not adequately require or enforce its use. That was among the key findings from a survey of road construction industry leaders conducted in spring 2001. The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) sponsored the research as part of its "Partnership for Worker Protection" program to raise safety equipment awareness in the road construction industry. Strategic Marketing Associates (SMA), a research firm that specializes in that industry, conducted the survey.
ISEA commissioned the survey to measure road construction leaders’ perceptions about awareness and usage of PPE, to get their viewpoints on the effectiveness and importance of various safety measures, including PPE, and to better understand the barriers that prevent workers from using various types of PPE. ISEA is using the findings to help guide its awareness campaign about the importance of PPE.
SMA conducted the eight-question survey by a combination of telephone interviews and faxed-back questionnaires. Two hundred fifteen respondents took part in the survey, including 111 from the private sector (i.e., construction companies, unions, workers compensation underwriters, associations) and 104 from the public sector (i.e., federal and state highway departments and other regulators, elected officials and staff). All of the respondents make or influence decisions affecting road construction worker safety.
SMA asked the respondents to consider eight different potential barriers that may exist between hazard-exposed road workers and their usage of 10 different types of PPE—safety vests, hardhats, fall protection, safety shoes/boots, earplugs/muffs, safety glasses/goggles, gloves, respiratory protection, coveralls and face shields.
In all cases except earplugs/muffs and coveralls, the industry leaders cited "employers don’t require/enforce usage" as the No. 1 barrier. Other barriers the respondents evaluated were "lack of style/comfort," "hampers job performance," "equipment not available or not provided," "expense of equipment to employees," "laborers aren’t informed on importance of equipment," "apathetic," and "inattentive." For earplugs/muffs, "laborers aren’t informed . . ." was No. 1, while for coveralls "lack of style/comfort" was cited most frequently.
Overall, "laborers aren’t informed . . ." and "lack of style/comfort" emerged as other key barriers across the board, along with "hampers job performance." Less frequently cited were "expense of equipment to employees," "apathetic" and "inattentive."
SMA also asked the road industry leaders to estimate the percentage of road workers who regularly use various types of PPE when needed; rate various types of PPE in terms of their importance in minimizing the risk of accident and injury; judge the effectiveness of various safety measures (including PPE use) in minimizing the risk of accident and injury at road construction sites; and assess the effectiveness of various approaches to increase PPE use.
Concerning regular use of PPE when needed, the respondents reported that high-visibility apparel (safety vests) and hardhats are worn regularly in situations where they are needed about 75% of the time—the highest usage rates among the 10 types of PPE evaluated. By contrast, the respondents told SMA that earplugs/muffs are worn only about half the time when needed, and usage rates for respiratory protection, protective coveralls and face shields fall well below that level—in the 30 to 40% range.
Concerning the importance of various types of PPE in minimizing accident or injury, SMA asked the respondents to rate each type of PPE on a scale of one (not important) to five (extremely important).
"Considering mean ratings between four and five to be highly important and mean ratings between three and four to be moderately important, safety vests (4.8), hardhats (4.4), fall protection (4.3), safety shoes or boots (4.2), earplugs/muffs and safety glasses/goggles (both 4.1) were seen as highly important," said Jim McKeen, SMA president. "Gloves (3.9), respirators (3.6), protective coveralls and face shields (both 3.4) are considered moderately important. No type of PPE was considered of low importance."
Using the same scale to evaluate the importance of PPE and five other safety measures to minimize accidents and injuries, SMA reported that the respondents believe all of them to be "highly important." But both public and private sector respondents gave "training and education the highest rating of all measures." Ratings for the various measures were as follows: training/education at 4.8; signs/lights and barriers/cones at 4.6; PPE at 4.5; flagger at 4.4; and OSHA compliance at 4.2.
As might be expected from that response, "training/education"—with a mean rating of 4.5—also led the list of four approaches the respondents considered effective to increase the use of PPE in road construction. SMA said that the score for training/education represented "high effectiveness." On the other hand, the measure considered least effective was "more regulation," with a mean score of 2.7. Respondents considered "more enforcement" (mean rating of 4) and "increased access to product" (mean rating of 3.8) to be "moderately effective," according to SMA.
Commenting on the survey results, ISEA President Daniel K. Shipp said, "Most road construction employers want to do the right thing by keeping their workers safe, and many already recognize the bottom-line benefits of equipping their workers properly with PPE. We hope that these survey findings will serve as a wake-up call on just how far we all have to go to ensure the safety of road workers, especially in terms of their PPE use.
"As an association representing PPE manufacturers, ISEA will continue our Partnership for Worker Protection outreach efforts to provide road constructors with information to encourage the proper application of PPE to prevent injuries and save lives, while they save money at the same time. Given the enormous costs of on-the-job injuries and the virtually incalculable costs of workplace deaths, there is no good reason why every employee isn’t wearing PPE when he or she needs it."
Earlier in 2001, ISEA also commissioned a focus group during the World of Concrete in Las Vegas to glean opinions about PPE usage from road construction supervisors with safety responsibility. Results from this qualitative research and from the quantitative survey of road construction leaders are being used to shape and measure progress in the Partnership for Worker Protection program.
Involved in activities
ISEA launched the program in mid-2000 ("A safe way to do business," ROADS & BRIDGES, July 2000). Since then, the association has undertaken a variety of activities to increase awareness and use of PPE, including:
- Establishing a Road Construction Industry Safety Equipment Users Council, consisting of industry leaders from the public and private sectors, to serve as a sounding board to help guide the program. The council currently is developing a way to "level the safety equipment playing field" in the road projects, and it is exploring ways to serve as a catalyst for establishing a cooperative national initiative to enhance road work-zone safety;
- Introducing a bimonthly newsletter, Protection Update, to keep road constructors up to date on the latest in PPE; the newsletter has been received enthusiastically by the public and private sectors and is available free of charge by contacting ISEA;
- Publishing new guides on the latest in high-visibility and hearing protection products; they are available free of charge by contacting ISEA;
- Participating on behalf of its members in road construction industry events, including the World of Concrete, Construction Safety Conference, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association’s inaugural "Safety Showcase" in Fall 2000 and inaugural International Roadway Work Zone Safety Conference this year, National Work Zone Awareness Week and the American Traffic Safety Services Association Convention;
- Conducting a vigorous program to stimulate coverage about PPE’s importance in key journals reaching the road construction audience;
- Developing data that clearly shows road construction companies currently spend far more to cover the costs of jobsite injuries than they would pay to equip their workers properly with PPE and make sure they wear it; and
- Working with labor organizations to develop ways to help their programs that encourage and train workers to use PPE.
Commenting on program progress to date, James Baron, director of communications for the American Traffic Safety Services Association, said, "What ISEA is doing regarding the safety of workers is of great importance to members of ATSSA who are on the front line every day in work zones. Saving lives is clearly the No. 1 priority for ATSSA and ISEA."
Within the next several months, ISEA will publish new guides to eye-and-face protection and hazardous gas detection products, will introduce a kit of communications tools to help road construction companies encourage PPE use among hazard-exposed workers and will step up efforts to prevent injuries and save lives with PPE use through appearances at road industry and labor conferences, coverage in trade press and through the Road Construction Safety Equipment Users Council.
We welcome your suggestions on all aspects of the Partnership for Worker Protection Program. If you would like to give feedback or are interested in getting involved directly with the Partnership, please contact me at 703/525-1695 or [email protected].