Work-related injuries cost the South African economy a staggering R121-billion every year, trade union Solidarity reports. Personal protective equipment (PPE) must, therefore, be high on the agenda of any industrial employer.
“One of the challenges is to get companies that have employees working in dangerous environments to recognise the benefits of certified PPE, and to be aware that the risk of an employee being injured is probably the single largest potential cost to the company in terms of injury compensation,” says supplier of leisure wear and PPE, Leisure & Work Safety MD John Marshall.
PPE is the last line of defence in any dangerous working environment. He says: “A safety officer will first determine the risk involved in a situation, install mechanical structures to reduce risk and, finally, consider the type of PPE needed for the particular individuals who will be working on site.”
Marshall adds that companies have to realise that PPE is not an unnecessary evil but, rather, it lessens the risk of injury or death. Reducing injury-related compensation far outweighs any savings made by buying inferior PPE.
He believes that a culture change is required within companies. “Safety officers generally have little decision-making authority to be able to determine the PPE a company buys. Compounding this situation is the fact that it is difficult to quantify cost savings when a company invests in more-expensive PPE as results are not seen immediately. Also, cost savings on safety aspects are seen independently from risk compensation, therefore companies do not see the overall savings of buying high-quality PPE and tend to buy cheaper products.”
However, Marshall says that there are significant developments being made in the devel- opment of PPE, indicating that these are proving more popular than traditional PPE. For exam- ple, safety boots have become more advanced in terms of heat-resistant soles able to withstand temperatures of up to 300 °C. While this adds to the initial cost of the product, its life expectancy is increased.
This example illustrates an important secondary benefit of buying high-quality PPE: the safety equipment will last longer and not have to be replaced as frequently as the cheaper equipment, saving a company money.
Marshall believes that the adoption of higher technically specified products by the industry is a growing trend. For example, the interpretation of the concept ‘flame retardant’ is different in many countries. “In South Africa, flame-retardant overalls are made of ordinary fibres that are chemically treated. There is a substantial cost implication, as one cannot guarantee how long the overalls will last in uncontrolled conditions. The chemical treatment is affected by different washing and drying processes.
In many international countries, the overalls are manufactured from a material that is intrinsically flame retardant. Not only is this safer but it also has a longer life expectancy. This is why I believe the industry is moving towards developing and using more technologically advanced products and high-quality products,” concludes Marshall.
Meanwhile, he says, companies have also become more aware of the impact and branding power of overalls. “The realisation of the bene- fits of branding has encouraged companies to move away from the standard two-piece blue work suit. We now have overalls reflecting company brand colours and logos, through embroidery and screen printing. Companies should see PPE as an opportunity to leverage their brand through their safety policy.”
Marshall also believes that the PPE industry should start offering solutions to challenges experienced by their clients rather than expecting their clients to understand the functions of particular PPE products. He concludes: “There has to be an ongoing recognition that PPE forms part of the average unit cost of labour, which is constantly increasing. Companies will become aware of the importance of high-quality PPE as the cost implications of work injuries become clear. One can always replace a machine, not an individual.”