June 28, 2024

The art of minimal PPE

Tony Tisler

VP of Operations

Safety is a top priority for any organization in order to reduce the risks of accidents and injuries. However, striking a balance between safety and productivity is crucial for success. Ensuring that the protective measures implemented do not hinder productivity is essential. Overbearing safety protocols can reduce efficiency, increase costs, and even create a false sense of security and complacency among employees. I’m co-chair of Outrider’s operational safety committee, and we’re responsible for creating a safe working environment with minimal to zero impact on productivity. It’s important – and sometimes difficult – to solve for both.

Take PPE or personal protection equipment, for example. PPE should always be the last line of defense for protecting employees when the hazard cannot be eliminated or controlled. This is especially true in dynamic, multi-use environments like Outrider’s facility. We have truck assembly areas, inventory cages, electronics labs, office space, flex space, and eating areas – and that’s just the inside. On the outside, we are testing 20,000-pound autonomous yard trucks pulling 55,000-pound trailers in a 300,000-square-foot industrial distribution yard.

At Outrider, we use work zones to drive the specific PPE rules, which makes communication of the rules and enforcement easy. Each zone is color-coded with the minimum PPE required in that area. Regardless of the person’s role or task, they must have the necessary PPE if they are in a zone. If the zone fits, you must equip! This solution is simple to document and straightforward to enforce, but in some locations, is it really the best approach for the productivity and convenience of the employees? Some recent exchanges with a few employees started me to think otherwise.

In my role as VP of Operations, I am often put into a position where I have to remind employees of our PPE zoning rules. These interactions are usually uncomfortable and usually result in an eye roll and an explanation (aka an excuse):

I only had to ask a quick question.
It was only for a second.
There is no dangerous work going on in this area.

Most of the time, I empathize with them. So, I asked myself, “Is it really an issue to walk across a safety-toe zone without safety toes when the area is empty?” “Can I, with a straight face, insist the employee take the long path around?” These conflicting feelings usually lead to weak enforcement, reducing the effectiveness of the policies in situations where they are most needed.

To come up with a solution, I reexamined our employee population. We do a wide range of work, from positioning yard trucks for testing and assembling autonomous vehicles to fabrication and writing software code. I started looking at our safety policy through two new lenses: roles and tasks.

  • Does a software engineer working on a laptop 3 feet from a parked yard truck inside the warehouse need to wear long pants?
  • Does the head of marketing walking the warehouse – never within more than 5 feet of parked yard trucks inside the warehouse – need to wear safety-toe shoes?
  • Does the head of sales need to equip himself and a group of visitors with slip-on safety toes to give a tour?

Therefore, right off the heels of National Safety Month this June, we’re updating our approach to PPE by incorporating the risk posed by the task. This hybrid approach will combine tasks, roles, and zones. For example, we’re applying the zone rules for tasks performed in a fabrication zone with heavy machinery and welding. We’re applying the PPE rules for high-risk roles like mechanic or driver. In multi-use areas, we put the responsibility on the person performing the tasks to wear the proper PPE for said task. While these hybrid policies are more difficult to document and implement, they are easier for team members to follow. With more team members wearing the proper PPE for their roles and tasks, we greatly reduce the risk of accidents and injuries.

At Outrider, we’re always looking for the perfect balance between safety and productivity that doesn’t sacrifice protection against injury and enables team members to get their jobs done quickly. And, just maybe, they will give the excuses and eye-rolling a rest.

Tony Tisler, VP of Operations

Tony Tisler is the VP of Operations at Outrider where he leads the quality, assembly operations, and facilities teams. Tony is engaged in creating Outrider’s world class assembly operations. He also leads the implementation of the quality management system through collaboration with teams to develop efficient and right size processes. Tony is the co-chair of the cross functional safety committee.

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