Jul 18, 2002

Everybody gets hurt

Without proper protective equipment, workers are injured and companies suffer

No construction worker wants to lose an arm, a leg, an eye,
their hearing, or be exposed to a respiratory hazard.  Most employers in the heavy construction industry recognize
that personal protective equipment (PPE) can help prevent such losses, paying
dividends in worker safety, security and morale. A much smaller percentage,
however, realize the small investment in PPE also can save their companies big
money by drastically reducing costs resulting from injuries, chronic health
problems and potential workplace fatalities that the right equipment could

Unfortunately, this lack of full awareness on the part of
some employers leads to apathy in requiring workers to don their PPE when
needed. For the second year in a row, a survey commissioned by the International
Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) of safety influencers in the heavy
construction industry showed that the main reason workers do not wear PPE when
needed is because “employers don’t require/enforce usage.” 

Failure to provide workers with the right PPE and make sure
they wear it is a mistake that gambles with employees’ safety and health,
with the bottom line and potentially with a company’s future. It is not
sufficient to look at a workplace injury in terms such as: “Well,
I’ll have to give this person several days off and pay higher insurance
premiums next year, and this is going to cut into what I make on the

Instead, when an injury does occur its impact must be
considered in terms of how it damages the bottom line.


Hidden from view

Workplace injuries consist of “direct” and
“indirect” costs. Direct costs typically are those covered by
workers compensation insurance and disability claims/benefits. Workers
compensation covers ambulance service, emergency room care, treatment by a physician,
medication and hospitalization. Temporary disability benefits are calculated as
a percentage of the injured worker’s lost wages.

Indirect costs include those not directly related to the
injury, but which occur as a result of the injury. Because there is no such
thing as a “typical” injury, these costs vary and can be difficult
to determine. In most cases, they probably represent three to four times the
direct costs.

Safety specialist H.W. Heinrich first tried to identify
these “hidden costs” in his 1931 book Industrial Accident
Prevention. Indirect costs that he identified still apply today, including:

•                Cost
of lost time of the injured employee and cost of time lost by other employees
who stop work to assist the injured employee or out of curiosity or sympathy;

•                Cost
of time lost by foremen, supervisors or others to assist the injured employee,
investigate the accident, arrange for the injured employee’s production to
be continued by someone else, or to select, train and break in a new employee;

•                Cost
due to damage to machines, tools or other property;

•                Cost
due to interference with completing a job on time, including loss of bonuses
and payment of forfeits;

•                Cost
to employer under employee welfare and benefit systems; and

•                Cost
to employer to continue wages of the injured employee in full after his/her
return, even though the services of the not-fully recovered employee may for a
time be worth less than normal value.

To this list one could add the costs of management time
dealing with lawyers or regulators, the costs of cleanup (including waste
disposal if chemicals, blood or other bodily fluids are involved), possible
legal action, the potential long-term effects of an injury or workplace
fatality on the worker’s family and the damage a poor safety record can
inflict on a company’s reputation among potential customers and the


Cash recovery

Not providing workers with the right PPE and making sure
they wear it can be a very expensive mistake. No prudent contractor puts a line
item into contracts to cover the “cost of worker injuries and
fatalities.” Instead, when an injury does occur the contractor must
consider its impact in terms of the amount of new revenue that must be
generated to recover lost profit.

See the sidebar on the previous page for a simple formula to
help calculate the cost of a workplace injury.

In the example, the hypothetical company could have
prevented the hypothetical injury with a $5 pair of safety glasses or a $10
pair of goggles. The difference between those costs and the $800,000 the
company must generate to recover leaves no room for workers who are not wearing
their PPE when needed, nor any acceptance of workplace injuries. Plug in your
own figures from the last injury your company sustained. You will always come
out ahead with properly equipped workers.

An informative brochure on this topic is available without
charge by writing to ISEA, 1901 N. Moore St., Arlington, VA 22209. Ask for the
brochure titled Personal Protective Equipment: An Investment in Your
Workers’ and Company’s Future, or put that title into the subject
line of your e-mail to [email protected].

Here are a few facts that underscore the key role PPE plays
in mitigating the financial effects of workplace injuries:

•                The
National Safety Council reports that the average lost-time injury costs nearly
$30,000. PPE not only can prevent injuries, it can lessen the severity of those
that do occur;

•                Workers
compensation premiums are affected by injury frequency as well as severity. The
more injuries a construction company has—even if they are not serious
ones—the higher the company’s premiums. PPE will reduce injury
frequency; and

•                The
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that each non-fatal occupational injury
or illness among workers in heavy construction requires the employee to miss
eight to nine workdays. By lessening injury severity, PPE can reduce the number
of days missed.


Still the same reason

As part of its “Partnership for Worker
Protection” program to increase awareness and use of PPE in the heavy
construction industry, ISEA in 2001 and again this year commissioned the
aforementioned surveys to find out why workers do not use PPE more regularly when
needed. A firm that specializes in construction market research conducted the

In both years, Strategic Marketing Associates, Stow, Ohio,
asked respondents for their opinions concerning 10 different types of PPE:
safety glasses/goggles, face shields, fall protection, gloves, hardhats,
hearing pro- tection, respiratory protection, high-visibility apparel (vests),
protective coveralls and safety shoes/boots.

This year’s survey covered 213 respondents from the
private and public sectors and included construction safety officers,
supervisors with safety accountability, labor representatives, insurance
underwriters, trade press, trade association representatives and federal,
state, county and municipal officials.

Results from both years were sobering and consistent, and
should serve as a wake-up call for those who are responsible for keeping
workers out of harm’s way: by far the reason given most frequently for
workers not wearing PPE was “employers don’t require /enforce
usage.” In this year’s survey, it was the No. 1 reason cited in six
PPE categories (fall protection, gloves, hearing protection, respiratory
protection, high-visibility apparel and protective coveralls) and No. 2 in the
other four (safety glasses/goggles, face shields, hardhats and safety


Valuable advice

ISEA’s “Partnership for Worker Protection”
has been in full swing for about a year and a half. The program—including
Protection Update newsletter, a steady stream of information about PPE in
construction publications, new literature of special interest to the
construction industry and participation in construction trade shows—has
been well received by those responsible for worker safety. And apparently it is
having a positive effect.

Results from the 2002 survey indicate that PPE awareness and
use in heavy construction are increasing. Comparing key 2002 vs. 2001 data
points, the results show that:

•                Awareness
about PPE’s importance in minimizing the risk of accident or injury is
increasing versus other measures—training/education, signs/lights,
barriers/cones, flagger and OSHA compliance. Awareness about the perceived
importance of various types of PPE also is increasing in real terms; and

•                Use
of PPE is increasing as well. Responses indicated that six of 10 PPE types
(hardhats, protective eyewear, hearing protection, protective coveralls, face
shields and safety shoes) showed increases in the percentages of workers who
are wearing them when needed; two types (safety vests and respiratory
protection) showed no change; and two types (fall protection and gloves) showed

What is coming up? On the near horizon are a special section
of ISEA’s website geared toward the construction industry; a
“Safety Officers Pocket Guide to PPE,” which will serve as a ready
reference to equipping workers properly for various tasks common to heavy
construction; and a PPE pocket reference for construction workers themselves,
available in Spanish as well as English. Later on, look for ISEA and its
members to play a more prominent role in construction trade shows, for more
visible signs of our ongoing partnerships with construction trade associations
and for a PPE/safety recognition program for the construction industry.

About the author

Shipp is president, International Safety Equipment Association, Arlington, Va.