How to make people wear safety gear

A shop supervisor shares how he’s used humour to create a friendlier work environment and encourage workers to wear their PPE. 

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Recently I talked with a shop supervisor who told me a funny way he gets workers to wear their personal protective equipment (PPE).

“I try to use humour and light-heartedness to get the message across and keep my reputation as a friendly supervisor,” he says. “Sometimes when I approach workers who aren’t following safety guidelines, I like to use a line from the ’70s TV show The Incredible Hulk — when the character who turns into the Hulk warns, ‘Don’t make me angry, Mr. McGee. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!’”

This supervisor, who we’ll call Joe, works with a staff of 15 to 20 artists and technicians who make specialized props for the film and TV industry. They use a variety of power tools to craft props out of different types of materials, including wood, metal, foam, silicone, fibreglass, and other, potentially harmful/toxic, substances.

“Even though we have signs posted everywhere reminding workers to use protection while using certain tools or materials, artists will sometimes forget to don their PPE to get a short task done,” Joe says. “Sometimes the artist will be so focused on the piece, they’ll forget to put on the necessary equipment as the task changes. The most frequent offence I find is failure to wear eye protection while doing short tasks on sanders/grinders. They’ll say ‘But I just have this little bit to sand out….’”

Joe describes what he does when he sees a worker who needs to don PPE.

“I’ll usually give them a gentle, polite reminder to put on their goggles or respirator. Often a simple gesture — pointing to their eyes or nose — with a smile will suffice,” he says. “I find a pleasant, succinct reminder works the best. Many shop supervisors rule with an iron fist and even shame workers who make mistakes, but I’ve had better results with sugar than with vinegar. It makes for a much more pleasant work environment!”

A supervisor has many roles in a workplace, one of which is looking out for workers’ health and safety. WorkSafeBC lists these responsibilities:

  • Ensure the health and safety of all workers under your direct supervision.
  • Know the WorkSafeBC requirements that apply to the work under your supervision and make sure those requirements are met.
  • Ensure workers under your supervision are aware of all known hazards.
  • Ensure workers under your supervision have the appropriate personal protective equipment, which is being used properly, regularly inspected, and maintained.

For more information on supervising, see these resources:

Supervising for safety: An online course for supervisors
Managing Safety From the Supervisor’s Perspective
Video: The Supervisor
Safety on the Job Is Everyone’s Business: Supervisor Responsibilities

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