These are familiar words as companies drill down through expenses in a continuing quest to improve the bottom line.
Whereas personal protective equipment once resided under the general "cost-of-doing business" umbrella, global competition has incited companies to bring work gloves and other PPE to the forefront and target them for cost-cutting.
Fortunately, new technology has brought many advances in PPE function, safety and durability so products offer greater performance and longer service life. Yet, some companies still hesitate to purchase quality PPE and base product selection solely on the up-front price of each piece. These companies may be able to reduce short term costs but miss the opportunity to improve worker protection and enhance PPE performance by managing cost-to-wear.
Examine the total picture
Most safety and plant managers will agree that companies typically get what they pay for when it comes to PPE. While a lower quality glove may cost less initially, it will likely cost more in the long term if it must be replaced more frequently or if injury rates rise. Companies do not save money when they pay $7 for gloves that last two weeks compared to $10 gloves that can be laundered twice (at 50 cents per laundering) and continue to provide a high level of service for six weeks.
Economists sometimes consider activity-based costing as a method to assign costs to products or services based on the resources they consume. Company management may want to take a similar approach to determine the cost-to-wear of their PPE. The approach requires careful examination of all cost components from the time PPE enters the facility until it goes back out the door.
Questions to ask include the following: How does the company acquire its PPE and how are products used? Do products perform as expected and how much does it cost to keep them in inventory? Do workers have the right gloves for the task at hand and do the products successfully reduce injury, which increases productivity and decreases medical costs? Are workers wearing the gloves for their full service life?
Management must also consider the waste aspect of the business. Are PPE products laundered and/or recycled or do they go into the waste stream for disposal in a landfill? What are the costs for laundering, recycling and/or disposal? Are there losses in productivity due to workers frequently changing PPE or from time consumed donning the products?
Focus on individual costs
Once managers consider and quantify all PPE cost components, they can begin to focus on specific opportunities to reduce individual costs while making operational improvements that impact productivity and the bottom line. Many companies, for example, can lower PPE cost-to-wear by reducing their SKUs. Eliminating redundant and/or duplicate products boosts supply chain efficiency by decreasing the time required to order and stock PPE and slashing costs for storage, carrying inventory and taxes.
PPE standardisation goes hand in hand with SKU reduction and ensures that workers use the optimal product across similar jobs. Once safety personnel identify the best glove for an application, that same product should be used for like applications throughout the plant and across multiple locations.
Waste is a tremendous expense for many companies – whether resulting from product defects, lost time or PPE discarded prematurely. Reducing waste can significantly drive down operating costs. Employee training on the use of PPE and recognising the signs that indicate the end of a product’s life can help control waste and reduce total costs.
Waste exists in various forms, such as prematurely discarded PPE or products disappearing from the production floor. Workers at one company, for example, used a tremendous quantity of PPE and when managers investigated, they found a number of employees were taking work gloves home for their own use and distributing them to family members and friends – sometimes as many as 12 pairs per employee.
The company was able to resolve the situation by allowing each worker to take two pairs of gloves home. This solution reduced product usage and resulted in happier employees.
Instituting control mechanisms can also reduce PPE usage and waste – and ensure workers have the right product for the application. Companies may implement a sign-out process for workers to obtain new PPE or install automated dispensing equipment, which can reduce PPE product turns and monitor user activity. Employee codes or key cards can be used to connect the user to the PPE consumed.
Consider laundering to reduce costs
Laundering and recycling programs can also help reduce waste. Most quality glove products are manufactured to withstand laundering without changing the size and fit or negatively impacting function.
Ansell – with its new high performance knitted cut resistant gloves – designs and manufactures the gloves so they are larger and launders them in advance so customers do not have to worry about shrinkage. Repeat washing has little impact on a glove’s size and fit. Even if the gloves shrink slightly, they will easily stretch back to their original size.
While this extra step in Ansell’s manufacturing process adds minimally to product cost, it extends the product’s useful life. It also ensures that a specific size glove continues to fit as expected throughout its life cycle.
Ansell tests many products for up to five launderings – although customers may be able to launder products more without diminishing their serviceability. Most glove manufacturers provide laundering instructions, which must be followed to maintain product integrity.
Laundered gloves that are no longer needed but are still serviceable may be donated to organisations with lighter use requirements as an alternative to landfill disposal. One company donated its used and laundered gloves to an organisation that helped find construction jobs for unemployed workers. The contribution offered tax benefits and improved morale because employees felt good about the company reaching out to the less fortunate.
Employee welfare, productivity and satisfaction should always be the primary objectives when managing PPE cost-to-wear. When product price becomes the sole objective, companies often lose in the long run by incurring increased injuries and down time, lower morale and greater waste.
Managing cost-to-wear must be a team effort involving procurement, plant and safety managers and the workers themselves. Workers must accept and understand the reasons they wear specific PPE and know how to determine when a product reaches the end of its serviceable life. Thus, communication and training are critical components when managing cost-to-wear.