Why ‘One Size Fits All’ Is Wrong

Why ‘One Size Fits All’ Is Wrong

Choosing task-specific, properly fitting PPE is essential for worker safety, productivity and cost-effectiveness.

Typically, “one size fits all” is marketed as a benefit, a convenient, cost-effective option for both manufacturers and consumers. However, in the realm of safety equipment, this concept fails dramatically. For personal protective equipment (PPE), “one size fits all” is not just ineffective; it’s dangerous. Let’s explore why site managers and safety officers should steer clear of generically spec’d products and review what alternatives they should consider.

Proper Fit Versus ‘One Size Fits All’

When it comes to casual fashion like t-shirts, jeans and Crocs, it’s okay if things don’t fit perfectly (in some cases it’s even a plus). Here, the stakes are low; it’s merely about personal style.

However, ill-fitting PPE—particularly hand protection—poses a significant risk to worker safety. Let’s take gloves, for example. The glove could slip off at the worst time, exposing the hand to an edge or impact. A loose glove could compromise a worker’s grip and cause them to drop a heavy load. If gloves are too tight or too loose, they can diminish tactile sensitivity, leading to errors in handling machinery or pressing control panel buttons.

If the PPE gets too uncomfortable, workers may choose not to wear it at all. The American Academy of Ophthalmology reported that an estimated 2,000 work-related eye injuries occur every day in the United States, with more than 75 percent of those injuries resulting from employees choosing not to wear the eye protection provided for the assigned task.

Any company-issued PPE should be available in a range of sizes so that every individual worker can find one that fits properly. If there are no sizes available, then the PPE should have clasps, ties or Velcro straps. Then the wearer can adjust the fit based on their comfort level. The fit must be snug — not so loose as to compromise safety but not so tight as to be uncomfortable or cut off circulation.

The Risks of “One-Size-Fits-All” PPE 

Sometimes businesses try to save on costs by buying one specific glove and handing them out to all employees, regardless of what their jobs are or what the hazards might be. This may seem like a good idea on the surface (and only if you stop at the budget), but it’s a terrible idea through any other lens.

Can you imagine using latex gloves for welding? Or using foundry mitts to handle power lines? These are extreme examples, yes. But they’re just as likely to injure a worker as supplying them with PPE that has the wrong levels of protection. What if a utilities company decided to save money by buying their employees a 12 cal/cm2 arc flash suit when they needed a 40 cal suit? The two are entirely different products, and the difference in performance can literally mean life or death for the wearer. 

“Jack of all trades” PPE can also lull workers into a false sense of security. They might not exercise any extra caution because they think the safety equipment will keep them safe, even when it won’t.

Each worker should have PPE that is specifically selected for the hazards associated with their tasks. If a worker changes tasks or stations—particularly to ones with different hazards—they may need entirely different gloves. The only scenario where the same gloves are suitable for multiple tasks is when they meet or exceed the safety requirements for each specific activity.

We recommend conducting a thorough site assessment to identify specific hazards in each department, and then obtaining the most suitable, task-specific PPE. 

PPE Saves More than It Costs

Standardizing PPE across all functions may stem from a lack of knowledge or minimal effort, but it is often driven by financial motives. A business might get a good deal out of buying in bulk, but they’ll end up paying more in direct and indirect injury costs when someone gets hurt. A single injury could cost the company at least six figures. Where’s the bargain now?

By investing in task-appropriate PPE, managers not only prevent costly injuries but also maintain productivity and morale, thus protecting the bottom line. It may hurt in the short-term, but the long-term gains will more than make up for it.

Speaking of long-term gains, consider that higher-quality PPE—while more costly upfront—can often lead to substantial savings over time. Tougher, more durable gloves, for example, have been proven to reduce annual glove replacement costs since they last significantly longer than the “one size fits all” stuff. They also increase site productivity because workers don’t stop to replace their gloves every few hours.

To Each Their Own

Now, not every person on the team needs to get custom-fitted, tailored PPE. But all PPE should be carefully chosen, taking into consideration the specific requirements of the task and the individual needs of the worker. This will ensure that workers stay safe, the facility stays OSHA-compliant and the business stays incident-free.

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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