Scott Corriveau | Ansell
If you thought chemical safety rules were complex enough, you haven’t seen anything yet. In October, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) called chemical exposure guidelines dangerously out of date, noting that many of them were created in the 1970s or earlier. OSHA called for a national dialogue on PELs and chemical exposures.
The result will most certainly be a set of new regulatory guidelines. After all, although there are thousands of chemicals present in today’s workplaces, OSHA admits that it has published exposure limits for less than 500 of them. And that’s just in the U.S. Around the world, chemical guidelines are becoming more complicated. In Taiwan, for example, environmental activists are demanding that the Taiwanese EPA tighten its regulations.
With the compliance environment becoming infinitely more demanding, where can safety managers turn for help? They need to lean hard on their PPE suppliers to stay ahead of the curve. Not only should their vendors offer a full range of effective, cost-efficient equipment, but they should also provide strategic advice to help them remain compliant, enhance productivity and keep workers safe.
Is your PPE supplier up to the task? Here are three tough questions to ask your vendor.
1. Do they have ongoing, real-world implementation, training and education programs?
In any chemical environment, the key to continuously improving safety, efficiency, and productivity while reducing costs is consistent education and training. Your PPE vendor should not only provide the latest equipment, but also offer a framework for instructing your managers and your workforce about how to handle chemicals and utilize their equipment to improve business performance.
Your PPE supplier should have a proven methodology for analyzing all of your job requirements and educating you about equipment solutions based on best practices and analytical risk assessments — not just what’s worked well in the past. Savvy chemical knowledge is also critical. For example, an MSDS details how to handle only one chemical; but many workplaces use chemical compounds or mixtures. Will the nitrile gloves your employees use when handling ammonia protect them around an ammonium compound? Your supplier should have an immediate answer for you.
By studying the way your employees work in their actual environment – not a testing lab – your vendor should be able to train you on what equipment to employ to safely manage these compounds or mixtures.
2. Do they understand your extended supply chain and business partners?
Supply chains are simultaneously becoming more geographically diverse and tightly interconnected. This requires many safety managers to worry about chemical exposures in underdeveloped countries. In mature markets, it’s safe to say there is a high level of education around chemical safety. But in emerging markets, where both production and consumption of chemicals are on the rise, safety regulations, standards and instruction are often inadequate.
For example, the estimated costs of illness and injury from pesticide poisonings on farms in sub-Saharan Africa already exceeds all the annual overseas aid given to the region for basic health services and could soar to $90 billion by 2020, according to a 2012 United Nations report.
If one of the links in your supply chain suffers an exposure incident, it can negatively impact both your corporate reputation and business processes. To mitigate this risk, your PPE vendor should have an international view of chemical exposure challenges and their solutions, whether you are doing business across borders or plan to do so. They should be providing best-in-class strategic advice, training and equipment to safety managers around the globe — where the chemicals learning curve is steeper — and have boots on the ground in emerging markets where regulations are underdeveloped.
3. Can they consistently fit the right equipment to the right job?
At the end of the day, with so many chemicals and compounds in the workplace, so many outdated OSHA regulations and so many PPE choices, you need your supplier to help you cut through the clutter. They should work alongside you, learn your unique environments and processes – and then optimize a custom or personalized solution for you to select the most appropriate, comfortable, and sustainable PPE.
PPE will not be embraced by workers if they find it too cumbersome to use. That’s why safety managers should focus on three characteristics: protection, comfort and performance. Protection is primary, but often workers are equally concerned with comfort. If the glove is not comfortable, the worker may not wear the glove when working — thereby compromising safety. When it comes to protective equipment, literally one size does not fit all. A worker should not have to struggle to complete fine detail work because they are wearing a bulky glove. A PPE vendor should understand these needs before even offering their products.
Equally important, PPE should perform well over time and offer a measurable business performance improvement, so that companies can both moderate their costs and see a stronger return on their equipment investment.
Today’s complex landscape of chemical manufacturing and handling is becoming even more complex — and even more hazardous. To succeed safely in this new reality, organizations need PPE partners with the right mix of innovative technology, a multinational footprint and a track record and proven understanding of the needs of both safety managers and workers.