The Price of Protection: Analyzing the True Cost of PPE Programs

When creating a personal protective equipment (PPE) program to account for short-term thermal hazards, the subject of cost inevitably comes up. Safety managers, of course, have to balance the risks associated with their job sites and the resources of the company—or else the PPE plan cannot be effectively implemented.

Especially in challenging times, it may be tempting to rely solely on task-based PPE as a final layer of defense for your workers. While task-based PPE certainly plays a role in nearly all programs, its exclusive use can come with unforeseen pitfalls. The initial price tag alone is not an accurate reflection of the holistic cost of the program.

So, what are the true cost of a daily wear or task-based PPE program?

  1. Initial investment

Often the most recognizable “cost,” the initial investment price tag is what many rely on when making their PPE investment decisions. It is true—the cost of task-based PPE is less expensive, as employers need fewer items that cost less to “outfit” an employee. Daily wear PPE usually requires task-based PPE items, like gloves and eyewear, on top of full sets of flame-resistant (FR)/arc-rated (AR) garments, like shirts and pants. Daily wear is naturally more expensive given its nature, and employees need at least four or five sets to account for daily laundering.

For a task-based coverall program to comply with NFPA 70E and NFPA 2112/2113, the non-FR garments worn underneath the protective PPE must be natural fiber clothing (cotton, wool, silk) as synthetic fabric blends are prohibited as underlayers. If 100% cotton clothing is mandated as part of the PPE clothing system, the employer is obligated to pay for natural fiber daily wear clothing since the natural fiber clothing is part of the PPE clothing system ensemble.

The cost advantage here is clearly in favor of task-based PPE, although if you factor in providing natural fiber, non-FR uniforms, the difference is less stark.

  1. Ongoing and long-term cost

Once the PPE program is in service, the long-term cost of a task-based only program becomes apparent. Task-based only programs, which carry a higher potential human error precursor and therefore a higher risk of a burn injury, can result in higher long-term and ongoing costs—ranging from increased medical and liability payouts to lost-time and productivity costs. Daily wear, because it is worn day-in and day-out, provides a measure of consistent protection; task-based only programs can only offer protection if they are in use at the precise time of an incident. Over time, this translates to higher medical and liability costs as workers may not use their task-based PPE for a host of reasons. In addition, valuable job-time is lost as workers routinely don and doff task-based PPE throughout the day.

The cost advantage here favors daily wear PPE, as most of its lifetime costs are captured in the initial investment.

  1. Risk liability

Task-based only programs require your workers to accurately and correctly wear their PPE 100% of the time, as it is usually worn only when the situation deems it necessary. Unfortunately, a host of human error precursors (rushing, frustration, fatigue, complacency) can influence why workers may not be wearing their PPE when they need it most. The burden of performance shifts away from you, the employer, to your employees to correctly assess the situation—yet the corresponding liabilities, should the worst happen, fall to the employer.

The cost and risk advantages here favor daily wear PPE, because daily wear offers a level of consistent, full-time protection as part of the program.

Both task-based and daily wear personal protective equipment (PPE) serve important roles in mitigating short-term thermal hazard risks. Yet, when determining your PPE program’s structure, the unforeseen costs associated with not utilizing daily wear garments can be far-reaching. Therefore, carefully consider the ongoing costs and risks and see whether adding daily wear garments can enhance your company’s safety atmosphere.

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