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Fitting the Occasion

Published: 11th Oct 2013

As a procurement professional, it is very important for me to be aware of the workwear selection criteria and to understand the different kinds of workwear needed for different workplaces and jobs.

Also, it’s important to know what workwear stands for. Although the word workwear is very broad, it can be defined as the kind of clothing you don at work, or the type of attire you put on when you go to workplace. Furthermore the dictionary defines workwear as “special clothes that people wear for particular types of work, to protect them” – Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, in other words.

Workwear can also include the uniforms or special clothing that reflects a company's or firm’s image. Workwear bearing a brand’s logo or business name is usually intended to improve and elevate brand recognition.

Workwear for protection

My intention, however, is to focus more on the attire related to PPE.

Workwear as PPE includes all kinds of body protection to do your job in a safe and healthy manner. It includes gloves, masks, eye protection, life vests, overalls, footwear, ear muffs and plugs, helmets and any kind of equipment that the worker may wear in the workplace.

In this article I will try to discuss the factors that may you consider when going through the process of selecting the proper workwear for your work environment based on the workplace industry and needs.

In my previous article (August 2013) I covered the importance of gloves for hand protection and in this article I will try to present the importance of workwear for the worker’s overall protection. As mentioned before, understanding all the above is very important for the management of any firm, including the procurement team. To be able to set a guide for workwear selection within an organisation, as well as a guide for its procurement, is a very important category in business.

Why workwear?

According to statistics from the United Kingdom's Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2010/11 around 171 people were killed at work, with more than 115,000 reported injuries through RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations). A further 200,000 injuries were reported which resulted in more than three days off work.

In general, there was a loss of more than 26 million working days, costing the UK economy in excess of £14 billion. Alarming statistics.

I’m sure you will agree that health and safety requires commitment. The costs don’t need to be extreme, but the cost of having unsafe work practises, accidents’ down time, insurance costs, as well as poor morale, high staff turnover and missed deadlines can be considerably more. These costs can affect profitability and in the case of small businesses it may be the difference between survival and going under.

Accordingly, health and safety are very important subjects that should be considered for each and every activity in our lives, including what we wear when we go out to work. Many organisations such as governmental and non-profit firms put codes and norms that govern the manufacturing and selecting of their workwear material and type. They may intervene from the design and fabrication through to the use of the resulting garments.

Our workforces that are involved in hazardous work conditions deserve care from us to select appropriate workwear for them that will provide effective protection to their health and safety. The value of mankind and his health and safety drives such firms and organisations to set the safety codes and norms.

International Standards and norms

There are many institutes that set norms, standards and codes for workwear. For example, in the United States there is OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration); in the UK there is the HSE (Health and Safety Executive); in Canada there is CAPP (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers), not forgetting, of course, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the world’s largest developer of voluntary International Standards.

The ISO sets standards for every kind of PPE you can think of. You will find standards for footwear, eye protection, overalls and so on. Standardisation is very important for the procurement professional since it sets out the criteria for making the right selection and helps with checking the health and safety compliance of the goods you’re considering purchasing.

Selecting the right workwear

The selection of workwear should align with the type of business hazard and its safety requirements. Since the danger and hazard differ from industry to industry, there are many kinds of workwear for different workplaces. For example, selecting eye protection for a welder will have different specifications to those for a painter. The first one should protect the eye from sparks, radiance and brightness while the second should protect the eye from paint spray or drops and associated chemicals and additives.

A fireman’s overall will be different to an overall worn by a construction worker. The first protects the fireman from fire and heat and thus follows standards different to those governing an overall that protects a worker from dust and dirt.

In the selection process of the proper workwear, whether you are working in construction, the food industry or in a situation where you have direct contact with chemicals, choosing the right workwear that meets your needs should ensure a safe and productive workforce.

Above all, consider garments that meet the needs of your workers. When choosing the clothes they will wear to work, keep their suitability for remaining comfortable through the working day as a central concern. In order to determine the suitable clothing for your workforce, besides safety considerations and legal compliance, clothing should be fit for purpose, comfortable and durable.

Observing the details

Fit to purpose means that you have to understand the danger related to your work conditions and get workwear that will protect from any dangers present, and is appropriately robust for the level of hazard. Infrastructure work where a worker stays outside and is vulnerable to traffic will pose different requirements to those of a steel foundry worker, constantly exposed to hot elements and extra heat, or a worker in a painting factory, exposed to hazardous chemicals and toxic odours.

Irrespective of what the hazards are in the workplace, there is workwear that will keep you safe. For example, high visibility garments are perfect for people who work on the roadside, as well as those in the building and construction industry. Alternatively, if you are exposed to insecticides, or other industrial chemicals, the workwear you choose should be designed to protect yourskin and lungs from the toxins around you. Fire retardant and heat resistant clothes are also available in various forms and follow different standards, codes and norms.

When selecting clothing, size is also very important. If you’re purchasing an overall for construction site workers, to make sure it will be comfortable enough to wear all day, you should measure a worker’s chest, waist, hips, and legs, before arriving at your final purchasing decision.

Being comfortable not only supports workers’ productivity, but they will be more focused on doing the assigned tasks. Workers wearing suitably sized clothing are also less likely to remove their protective clothes as a result of feeling uncomfortable. Significantly, comfortable clothing will help the worker to enjoy and appreciate his working day and have the motivation to come to work, waking up fresh and feeling active.

Don’t forget to select workwear that your workers will be proud of. If you select the right size and body fit, but you neglect a good, stylish appearance, your employees may be embarrassed to wear the clothing, and feel mentally rather than physically uncomfortable.

If you are unsure about the hazards that are present in your workplace, talk to your workers and get proper feedback from them. Also consult the Safety Manager. He or she will be able to inform you about work related risks, which will help you choose your workwear properly. Feedback from your employees is very important during the process of selecting the proper workwear.

Durability is another important factor to consider. Select a supplier that deals with high quality materials from reputable sources and manufacturers. Targeting for quality, as well as safety, is the best way to save money in the long term, and guarantee your business is more competitive. High quality garments usually stand more wear than items produced with poor quality fabrics or construction, and are particularly useful for tough work environments.

The most important factor for the safety manager and procurement professional to bear in mind is the type of fabric the garment is made from. This impacts on whether or not it will be fit to purpose and durable, and also how comfortable it will be. It's not exclusively a matter of selecting the right fabric, however; it’s also a matter of selectinga high quality product to protect human safety and health – something that is beyond compromise.

Promoting your brand

Make sure the garments you buy are smart and well put together because this can influence customers – and potential customers. In addition to being PPE, workwear can also reflect the business brand and image. As well as looking good, wearing branded workwear will leave a very good impression on your clients – and first impressions last.

In addition, having the team members in the same uniform helps create a sense of belonging, and develops team spirit and solidarity. The branded logo helps creates a wider sense of corporate belonging, which is good for staff morale, productivity and motivation.

Besides your business logo and slogan you can include promotional material for the business. If you view this as a marketing opportunity, the design you select can be self-promoting, with carefully selected colours that reflect your brand motto and company values.

Consider examples from the industrial and business worlds. Without mentioning specific names, there is no doubt that you can recognise many manufacturers and brands from their work uniforms, since what employees wear has become bonded with their brand. Dealing with this in a clever and professional way can have a great impact on business profitability and appearance within highly competitive markets.

Being safe and being productive

Having discussed the elements of what and why, it’s clear your employees should be fully equipped with the appropriate PPE from head to toe. They must have safety helmets and safety boots – and all the necessary protective gear in between – for their safety's sake.

If the climate is very cold and they are exposed to snow, they must be equipped with winter workwear. They must wear jackets, scarves and gloves so they won't feel the cold. When it comes to shoes, they must be thermal, or have insoles, to prevent feet from feeling cold while they are being exposed to snow. With these, your employees will be highly motivated to work and you can just expect that their productivity will increase.

Although being safe at work is not a primary motivating factor as per Herzberg Motivation Theory, and it is considered as part of the ‘Hygiene Factors’, if concern for safety is absent this will cause dissatisfaction/discomfort for the employees and make them lose there motivation to work. Conversely, where there is a high regard for safety, workers feel valued, feel safer and more at ease and this will increase productivity.

Conclusion

In many countries companies are obliged by law to provide a safe and healthy work environment for their employees. Employees can sue their employers if they don’t fulfil their ‘duty of care’, and an employer can be held responsible for any injuries or deaths which occur due to lack of proper safety and health management.

Many companies face huge losses due to high compensation payouts they have to make to injured employees, or to their families in the case of death. Accordingly, take the legal requirements related to selecting the proper PPE very seriously indeed. Not only can this release companies from legal action in certain circumstances, but it will improve the company image and reputation in the immediate community and beyond. It is part of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Finally, and the most important benefit from selecting the proper workwear is that a business will increase its ROI by reducing the days of absence due to injuries, and its staff turnover caused by unsafe working conditions, again saving a lot of money.

Business will always be more productive and efficient by having the proper workwear that is suitable in terms of safety, size, quality and comfort. Whether you are a manager choosing clothes for your workforce, or an individual choosing for yourself, taking your time over this process will save you money in the long term, and will make your workplace a more enjoyable place to be.

Published: 11th Oct 2013 in Health and Safety Middle East

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Ali Sadeddin is a mechanical engineer who has been involved in the construction field for more than 20 years. Having more than 14 years of intensive exposure to procurement and operations in the construction sector, he is currently serving as Procurement Director (Head of Procurement) at Khidmah LLC, a leading company in facility and property management.