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Keep PPE Inventory Nearby to Promote Worker Safety

Grainger Editorial Staff

The use of personal protective equipment, or PPE, is one of the most challenging issues when it comes to workplace safety. There are many variables that can come into play, with individual compliance being the biggest hurdle. So why does compliance continue to be an issue? In an annual survey released by Kimberly Clark Professional1, respondents cited the following reasons for noncompliance:

  • Uncomfortable
  • Too hot
  • Blamed for decreased productivity or an inability to perform tasks
  • Unavailable near the work task
  • Ill-fitting
  • Unattractive

In this same survey, respondents cited eye protection and gloves as the two most challenging PPE to wear. Not surprising, when you look at the list above. And while personal fit and comfort will always be more difficult to resolve, keeping PPE near the work task is easier to manage, especially because the reason given for noncompliance is that items aren't in close proximity to where the task is performed. This indicates that workers don't want to have to stop what they are doing to go to a centralized tool crib or cabinet to find the PPE item they need to get back on the job. And who can blame them?

If you're a worker in a manufacturing plant, and your performance is measured by how much you get done in a day, the last thing you want to do is leave the production line to go find PPE. But it can get worse. Maybe you know that the crib where the item you need is a 10-minute walk away. And there's still no guarantee that you'll find the exact item you need when you get there. There are a number of ways a situation like this can play out. Let's say for example, the employee in the manufacturing plant needs a new pair of safety glasses.

Scenario 1: The worker opts not to go for the glasses, and instead decides to continue working. This is probably a pretty typical and unfortunate scenario. In this situation, you have an employee in noncompliance, and the potential for injury. And if an OSHA inspector happens to arrive that day, whether there's an injury or not, there will be fines.

Scenario 2: The worker is actually injured on the job as a result of not wearing the glasses and has to take time away for rehabilitation. In this situation, you have one less worker, more fines from OSHA, lost productivity and all of the significant damage caused by a worker injury.

Scenario 3: The worker stops what he or she is doing and makes the 10-minute walk to the tool crib. Even though it takes several minutes once they reach the tool crib, they eventually find the exact pair of safety glasses they need, and then make the 10-minute walk back to the production line a half-hour or so later. You may not get fined, but they've stopped work altogether for the time it takes to get what they need. Imagine a $100-an-hour employee stopping work for a half-hour to get a $2 pair of glasses.

What if this happens several times a week? Maybe the next time it's for a new pair of gloves, or maybe ear protection. And what if this happens with several employees throughout the week? All leaving the production line to go to the same location to hunt around for what they need, so they can get back on the job safely and in compliance. When you start to add this up, it's definitely a safety issue, but it's also a huge productivity problem. So what’s the solution? Increasingly, manufacturing plants are using point-of-use storage on the floor to give workers more immediate access to the tools and PPE they need to work efficiently and safely. One of the more widely accepted practices is installing vending machines. In a recent article by ISHN2 vending machine use in plants has "more than doubled over the past few years, with companies across a range of industries reaping immediate cost benefits."

Keeping the right PPE in close proximity to the task at hand should encourage compliance, because your employees won't be as concerned about time away from the job. Point-of-use vending and PPE are a natural fit, as many of the consumable PPE items such as earplugs, safety glasses, and gloves are also smaller so many can be stocked in one location.

Today as manufacturing plants look to control costs and improve productivity, more are adopting the concept of keeping inventory near the task where it is needed. A program designed to manage that inventory is critical to helping companies monitor inventory levels and control use. One area where this can have a significant impact is your safety program. If individual compliance with PPE continues to be an issue on your plant floor, maybe moving these items closer to your employees will encourage more active participation in your safety initiatives.

Learn more about vendor managed inventory and the many other inventory management options available to meet your needs here.


1 Alarming Number of Workers Fail to Wear Required Protective Equipment
2 Use of PPE Vending Machines is Exploding

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

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