Safety and OSHA News

Best responses to 5 biggest PPE excuses

“How do I get all my employees to wear their safety gear all the time?” It’s one of the top challenges safety pros face year after year. So we asked 290 of your peers about their experiences to find out the top reasons workers give for not wearing PPE.

And we also asked safety managers how they deal with the problem. Here are the results:


“It doesn’t fit right,” or “it’s uncomfortable” are the reasons 30% of safety pros hear most often when they ask workers why they aren’t wearing their PPE.

Solution: Get workers involved in PPE choice. Ask what the comfort and fit issues are with their safety gear.

Work with a few select employees to order several different trial samples of regulatory-compliant gear.

Then have these employees test it. If there isn’t a consensus, note whether people with certain physical characteristics prefer certain types. You may have to order more than one type to satisfy your workers.

‘I didn’t know’

Some workers will try to put the blame for their lack of PPE on someone else – many times their supervisors or trainers.

“I didn’t know I needed safety gear” was the top reason heard by 10% of safety pros.

Solution: When safety gear training is given, have workers sign a paper stating that they’ve received and understand the training.

To make this policy work, supervisors will have to follow up with disciplinary action when workers don’t wear PPE.

Time factor

“I didn’t have time,” or “it takes too much time” are the main reasons 18% of safety pros hear as excuses from workers without PPE.

The first step to solve this problem: Ask workers why and listen carefully to their answers. You may have a conflict between production and safety. In that case, ask production supervisors to emphasize that work doesn’t start until safety gear is on.

You may also find out these workers weren’t properly trained about donning PPE. Another possibility is that workers are rushing to get to their stations on time because of tardiness. Disciplinary measures may be necessary in those cases.

They’re invincible

“I won’t get in an accident” is heard most often by 8% of managers.

Oddly enough, this sentiment is expressed by two very different groups.

Young workers often think they’re invincible — that nothing bad will ever happen to them. If they haven’t been exposed to a serious injury, it may seem to them like “that only happens to other people.”

More experienced workers who have gone their entire career without a serious workplace injury adopt this rationale: I’ve always done it this way and haven’t been hurt so far.

Solution: Show them how it has happened. Invite someone who suffered a serious — and possibly debilitating — workplace injury to speak to an all-hands safety meeting.

Ask the person to explain in detail how the injury has affected his life — how everyday activities others take for granted are now much more difficult for him.

Another tactic: Tell employees to put an arm behind their back. Now, ask them to perform a simple task such as tying their shoes.

Memory lapse

The rest, 34%, say “I just forgot.” Check first if fit, comfort or time is a factor before accepting this excuse.

This is where a strong safety policy comes into play. Each workplace has to decide how often it’s acceptable for someone to “just forget” and what will happen to the employee each time. Universal enforcement — up to dismissal if appropriate — will send a message to others to always wear their PPE.

What’s the biggest excuse you hear from employees when they don’t wear their PPE? What has — and hasn’t — worked for you to make sure they wear it? Let us know in the Comments Box below.

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  1. Jerold W. Wiley, Ph.D. says:

    In the contract housekeeping industry it appears that the biggest excuse is in two parts. First, the employees can’t find the PPE and second there is no PPE. In our business we use gloves, goggles and aprons when working with chemicals. But, on some occasions the goggles were used by another employee and never cleaned and returned. Same true for the apron. We try to emphasize to our managers to have extra sets of all PPE items immediately available and to check their use every day. People cannot be expected to use PPE that is not there.

  2. The problem is at the managerial level. Solution: Issue each employee a complete set of PPE with their I.D. stamped on it. Issue a backpack for them to keep their PPE with them at all times. Any employee found not using PPE as required no longer has an excuse, nor a job.

  3. I have found that in many cases employees try to “beat the system.” They often use excuses like “I forgot” or “I didn’t know” to cover up other issues such as tardiness. Many know the rules/penalties just as well as mangement. When confronted, I have heard the employee handbook quoted to the letter by violators. It is sad reality that many violations happen due to lack of enforcement by supervisors. When management buys into the safety program the entire culture on the facility changes. The other thing that I have had great success with is safety incentives for 30-60-90 days without injury and looking forward to 120 days next week. Our employees look forward to the rewards so they help keep each other safe. Rarely do I have a PPE violation.

  4. What type of safety incentives do you use at 30-60-90 days? We use 600, 1200, and 1800 hours. Our incentives are valued at $25, $50, and $100. Time resets Jan 1.

  5. Monetary incentives don’t abate hazards, they motivate non-reporting. How would you like to be the guy that’s injured with a day left until a $100 payout for his entire department? Peer pressure is a powerful thing.

  6. Bob Fitzgerald says:

    We tried the monetary incentive program. $1 per hour of straight time, paid quarterly. We had reductions in amount for injuries and safety infractions. Didn’t see any change in behavior. The only question was “How much are we getting this quarter.” We have a new program we are trying Hazard Elimanation and Risk Observation. If you see a safe or unsafe act, complete a HERO card and turn it in. At the first safety meeting of the following month I draw 5 names and those 5 employees get $200.00 for thier card. Only about 25% of the employees put in cards. Because of that we have a lot of repeat winners. The other 75% complain the same employees win all the time. My responds is if you don’t play you can’t win.
    What really has helpped change things here was the president of the company, replaced a couple of the top managers. It got the others to step up and take notice

  7. Paper Maker says:

    Jeff and Bob – RIGHT ON!!! Most safety incentive systems reward not reporting injuries and do not create a safer work environment nor change anybody’s behavior. Incentives MUST be connected to the process NOT the outcomes (injuries).

  8. has anyone tried on the spot recognition rewards? i have tried just about every incentive program and the outcome boils down to the same thing – motivating non-reporting injuries/incidents. On the other hand, rewarding employees on the spot for using safe work practices has worked for me. The word spreads like wild fire amongst employees and before you know it the culture has changed to where all employees are safe working individuals and promote safety amongst themselves preventing each other from getting injured. The rewards do not have to be extragant either, I have used movie tickets, dinner gift cards, sports game tickets, fuel gift cards, miniature golf, department stores, grocery markets, nice safety glasses with a chum, nice working gloves and a glove clip to prevent loosing them etc.. it really doesn’t take much, just giving the employees recognition for working safe goes a long way. Employees do not get that recognition frequent enough, it is more often the unsafe or wrong way/thing they do that is brought to their attention. positive re-inforcement is a strong motivator.

  9. I think the most underutilized safety incentive is a sincere “atta-boy! / atta-girl!” We started a Behavioral Based Safety program a few years ago. One of my first observations and discussions was with a +20 year employee. Her work area looked great, everything was spot on, and I said, “Looks like you’re doing it all right. Thanks for the good work.” She said that was the first time with the company that anyone every thanked her … for anything! As she said, “You will always hear the ‘Oh s**t’ but never the atta boy.”
    We had product managers go out for a while and give every employee who turned in a Potential Hazard report a token for the pop machine. But the main thing it did was get them out on the floor to commend their employees. We heard wonderful things about this program. Since gone away … sigh.
    Try to think about the last time you came forth with a compliment to an employee. Ask your management team when was the last time they complimented a production-warehouse-maintenance employee. Then try it out. I think you’ll get good results.

  10. Tim Hannoln says:

    I worked in the construction industry for years before becoming a safety professional. I work at a site in Denver once that would boot you off the project for your very first safety infraction, PPE included, no questions or excuses. A few people tested the system and the contractor backed up their policy. It was very effective. If you wanted to stay employed, you wore your PPE.
    Money, or a lack thereof, is a great motivator.

  11. Exactly, hit their wallet or fire violators and attitudes will change real fast. The whole pc mindset in business these days is really the cause of most of the problems. When you come to work it shouldnt be about “your feelings” it should be about you doing your job, the best you can and complying with policy. The hr/pc mindset is going to destroy our economy. When you hire and retain employees for ANY other reason then they are the best, most qualified and dedicated; then you put your company on the path to failure.

  12. I’m not a big fan of safety incentive programs. Rather I believe when managers are committed and enforce the rules. The rest will follow. For example when an EE doesn’t wear their PPE send them home for the day and I promise attitudes will change.

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