Health and Safety

Addressing Common Excuses for Employees Not Wearing PPE at Work 

March 20, 2024

Responding to excuses for not wearing PPE  

Not wearing PPE is a risk for the employee and employer. How many times have you heard excuses for why a worker wasn’t wearing their personal protective equipment (PPE) or was wearing it incorrectly? PPE is equipment a worker wears to reduce their exposure to a hazard. It does not eliminate hazards, but when used correctly reduces the likelihood of illness or injury. For example, wearing hearing protection while working next to loud equipment does not eliminate the noise hazard. If worn correctly, though, PPE reduces the likelihood that a worker will experience hearing damage. Wearing PPE is not just a best practice; safety legislation mandates it. Employees not wearing PPE at work exposes the organization to unnecessary risks. 

Excuses for not wearing PPE at work 

  • Not wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) at work is a serious risk as it helps to keep workers healthy and safe.
  • Despite its importance, workers come up with various excuses for not wearing PPE. 
  • Workers’ excuses can reveal underlying health and safety issues for employers to address. 

Reasons for not wearing PPE 

PPE is crucial for protecting the health and safety of workers. Despite its importance, wearing PPE is not always taken seriously, and workers have come up with a myriad of excuses for not wearing it. These excuses range from forgetfulness to outright refusal and come from all kinds of workers. Many employers already emphasize educating new and young workers about the importance of PPE, but experienced workers also come up with excuses. Employers need to listen to workers’ excuses to identify the underlying issue and address it. Many of these issues have ready answers to help keep employees safe. Let’s examine seven common excuses for not wearing PPE and how you can respond. 

The excuse: “I didn’t know” 

Workers may say they didn’t know they had to wear PPE, so providing comprehensive health and safety training ensures workers know what PPE to wear and when. Provide information and training about PPE at the start of employment as part of your onboarding process. Use a Safety Orientation Checklist to ensure employees receive all information and training required to work safely. Also consider implementing a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Policy to set expectations for when workers must wear PPE. Have workers sign and date the policy to acknowledge they have reviewed and agreed to the terms so you can hold them accountable. 

It’s also important to communicate any new or updated requirements for wearing PPE. Changes may occur following regular workplace hazard assessments. Use a New or Updated Policy Communication Memo to ensure workers are aware of the updated requirements and to create a record of the communication. If the change requires a new type of PPE, also provide workers with training on how, when, and why to use it. This training ensures workers know when they need to wear their PPE, but it doesn’t guarantee they won’t forget. 

The excuse: “I forgot.” 

Workers may forget to wear their PPE, but this can be corrected promptly if workers are properly supervised. Supervisors need to take health and safety matters seriously, including wearing PPE. Assign Occupational Health and Safety Awareness Training to supervisors and ensure they are aware of the importance of their responsibilities. Also consider other simple changes you can make to reduce forgetfulness. For instance, if workers share company-provided PPE, make it easily accessible and visible, such as leaving coats and gloves outside the door of a walk-in freezer. 

Workers may genuinely forget their PPE on occasion. If this becomes a pattern of behaviour, implement progressive discipline in accordance with your Progressive Discipline Policy. You need to take health and safety violations seriously. Remember, wearing PPE is mandated by legislation where an employer requires it, and it is vital to protecting employees’ health and safety. However, issues like poor fit can also deter employees from wearing PPE. 

The excuse: “It doesn’t fit.” 

Poorly fitting PPE can prevent workers from wearing it properly and compromise its effectiveness. PPE is not one size fits all; it needs to fit the individual properly to provide adequate protection. Factors like body size, sex, and gender are all important considerations for finding the right fit. If you provide PPE, ensure many sizes are available to employees. If the employee is responsible for providing their own PPE, supply them with criteria for how PPE should fit so that they can ensure they select the correct size.

Some types of PPE even require individual fit testing by professionals, such as respirators. Poorly fitting PPE doesn’t only compromise its effectiveness, it can become a hazard itself. For example, oversized clothing can become tangled in a machine and pull the worker in, resulting in injury. Poor fit, among other factors, can also contribute to PPE being uncomfortable to wear: for example, if it’s too small and overly restricts movement. 

The excuse: “It’s uncomfortable.” 

No one wants to wear uncomfortable equipment. Discomfort can stem from various factors, which can be identified using a Personal Protective Equipment Survey. A common source of discomfort is having to wear multiple types of PPE at once. Where this is required, employers need to ensure all types of PPE can be worn together comfortably without compromising effectiveness. Maintaining PPE and replacing it as necessary can also improve comfort. For example, fabric may become scratchy with prolonged use and require workers to make frequent adjustments, which could compromise the PPE’s effectiveness. 

Also consider how work conditions affect comfort. If workers are exposed to high temperatures, implement a prevention plan as part of your Heat Stress Prevention and Hot Weather Policy. This plan should include administrative controls, such as allowing workers to take more frequent breaks and remove PPE during these breaks to reduce the risk of heat stress. Following these measures can make PPE more comfortable to wear. Workers may still have concerns about it inhibiting their work. 

The excuse: “It slows me down.” 

Even when PPE fits properly, it can be cumbersome to wear. Employers should acknowledge that while wearing PPE may seem inconvenient, it is a crucial health and safety measure. PPE should be a key consideration when planning jobs in accordance with the company’s Health and Safety Planning Policy to ensure workers use it where necessary. Workers may feel wearing PPE makes it take longer to complete tasks or inhibits them from working efficiently. For example, workers may feel that wearing gloves when working on certain machinery limits dexterity. While it’s great that employees want to be productive, employers should foster a safety culture, where workers know that safety always comes first.

Organizational Culture Training can help you assess your current culture and take steps to foster a safety culture. Supervisors can also contribute to building a safety culture as part of their duties under a Supervisor Competencies and Responsibilities Policy. Supervisors should lead by example and always wear their PPE, which can encourage employees to do the same and work safely. Even with a strong safety culture, employers might need to make accommodations regarding PPE. 

The excuse: “It violates my rights.” 

If an employee’s reason for not wearing PPE is based on a prohibited ground of discrimination under applicable human rights legislation, you have a duty to accommodate them in accordance with your Human Rights Policy. For example, workers who wear religious head coverings and are required to wear hard hats may request accommodation. Accommodation does not mean allowing an employee to work without wearing PPE. It means providing PPE in a different form that still provides adequate protection.

Follow the accommodation process to identify an appropriate accommodation and document it in an Individual Accommodation Plan. It is also important to note there is a limitation on the duty to accommodate if PPE is a bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR). Making accommodations regarding PPE helps ensure that workers remain safe and respects their human rights. Accommodation is not required if the refusal is not based on a prohibited ground under human rights legislation, such as “I just don’t want to.” 

The excuse: “I don’t want to.” 

Employees may not want to wear required PPE, but it’s not optional. It’s a legislated requirement and key to protecting their health and safety. Occupational health and safety legislation mandates workers wear PPE where it is required by an employer. When and where PPE is to be worn should appear clearly under employee responsibilities in your Health and Safety Policy. If a worker refuses to wear PPE where required, they cannot be permitted to work. They are violating company policy and occupational health and safety legislation. The worker should be subject to progressive discipline in accordance with your Progressive Discipline Best Practice Guide. 

Employees may argue that they have never worn it, and nothing has happened. This argument illustrates that the employee does not understand the importance of PPE and how it makes work safer. Retrain the worker on the importance of PPE by assigning Personal Protective Equipment Training for Employees and use track training assignments so you know when it’s time for another refresher. It’s also important to provide job- and task-specific training on the hazards employees face and how wearing PPE protects them. This can help employees see PPE as a tool that helps complete a job safely, like a ladder is a tool to reach something out of place. 

Corrective action for not wearing PPE 

Workers’ excuses for not wearing PPE can reveal underlying issues. It can also help to explain why workers don’t take this important health and safety measure. Many of these issues are relatively easy to address. The appropriate responses often overlap, like ongoing training and refreshers for workers on the importance of PPE. The goal of any corrective action for not wearing PPE should be educational, not punitive. The desired outcomes should be a change in mindset and a reduction in PPE policy infractions. Now that you know how to address these common excuses, you can prepare to respond and help ensure workers wear their PPE. 

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