Behavioral Strategies to Encourage PPE Usage

By Jack Shaw
Last updated: July 12, 2024
Key Takeaways

With a combination of strong leadership, comprehensive training, and smart design, you can increase PPE compliance in your workplace.

Construction worker in safety vest, hard hat, safety glasses, and gloves using a tool to bend rebar.
Source: SAMS Solutions (Unsplash)

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a non-negotiable for ensuring the safety and well-being of workers in various industries, from healthcare to construction.


The proper use of PPE can prevent injuries, exposure to harmful substances, and the spread of infectious diseases.

Given its importance and the peace of mind it provides, you might assume that every worker is happy to don their PPE so they can work safely. However, getting people to use PPE consistently can be a challenge.


Why PPE Is Essential

PPE is a vital frontline defense against a wide range of workplace hazards.

According to the International Labor Organization, approximately 395 million employees worldwide sustain injuries in the workplace each year and almost 3 million die of work-related illnesses or accidents. PPE plays a pivotal role in reducing these numbers by providing a barrier against potential risks.

The importance of PPE goes beyond injury prevention. In healthcare settings, gloves, masks, and gowns are crucial for infection control. The World Health Organization reports that appropriate PPE utilization reduces the risk of healthcare-associated infections, improving patient outcomes.

The COVID-19 pandemic also highlights the critical role of PPE in mitigating the spread of infectious diseases. The CDC emphasizes the effectiveness of well-fitted N95 and KN95 respirators in preventing the transmission of COVID-19 and other airborne viruses.

The Psychology Behind Compliance

Compliance is about how individuals and organizations respond to rules, regulations, and societal expectations. The reasons people comply with or resist certain guidelines involve a variety of psychological factors, such as social influence, perceived norms, the desire for approval, and group influence.


Humans are inherently social beings and the fear of deviating from perceived societal expectations can be a powerful motivator for compliance. In many cases, people conform to established rules to gain social approval, avoid criticism, or simply fit in with their peer groups.

Leadership matters as well. People tend to follow rules more diligently when they perceive the authority figure as legitimate and trustworthy.

Voicing the reasons behind rules also plays a role. When individuals understand the purpose and potential benefits of compliance, they’re more likely to internalize these norms, making voluntary adherence more likely.

Conversely, individuals may resist compliance when they perceive the rules as arbitrary, unclear, or question the authority of the person enforcing them.

How to Encourage Your Team to Wear PPE

A culture of consistent PPE usage is vital for maintaining a safe and secure environment. Here are some steps you can take to create that culture.

Educate Employees

When you inform workers about the reasons behind the PPE rules and guidelines, they’re far more likely to adhere to them.

Conduct regular training sessions to inform employees about the potential risks and consequences of not using PPE. Highlight real-life examples and success stories where PPE has been instrumental in preventing accidents or minimizing the impact of hazards. Sharing specific scenarios related to these incidents during training sessions can vividly illustrate the life-changing impact of overlooking safety protocols.

Include messaging that normalizes PPE and frames it as the only sensible choice. For example:

  • Wearing PPE ensures they can get home safely to their families
  • They do other things for their health, such as exercising or eating healthy – wearing protective gear is just another one of those habits
  • Point out that other industries require PPE too, even in sports

Redesign Work Procedures or Workspaces

Conduct a thorough assessment of how each worker does their job to identify any potential pain points related to PPE.

Look for aspects of the job procedure that make PPE less convenient. For instance, if a worker has to repeatedly take off their cut-resistant gloves to do a task that requires a high degree of manual dexterity, they might decide to simply leave them off and save themselves the hassle. Redesigning the work procedure to minimize how frequently the gloves have to be removed can encourage compliance.

Assess the design of each workspace as well, with an eye to uncovering any obstacles to PPE usage. If a worker needs to wear safety glasses when using their miter saw, for example, make sure there is a spot near the saw to store those glasses. Even if a worker only has to take ten steps to fetch their glasses, that’s ten steps they might try to avoid by using the saw without eye protection.

Lead By Example

Leaders and supervisors should set the standard by consistently wearing PPE themselves.

When individuals in positions of authority prioritize safety measures, it sends a strong message to the rest of the team. Workers are more likely to follow suit when they see their leaders actively embracing and valuing PPE as standard practice, creating a collective understanding that safety is a non-negotiable aspect of the job.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement can significantly influence behavior. Recognize and reward individuals who consistently adhere to PPE guidelines. This could be in the form of verbal praise, certificates, or small incentives. Positive reinforcement can motivate employees to prioritize their own safety, while also fostering a sense of pride and accomplishment within the team.

Additionally, positive reinforcement can:

  • Boost job satisfaction
  • Reduce turnover rates
  • Improve worker attitudes
  • Increases resilience


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Provide Comprehensive Training Programs

Offering comprehensive training programs ensures that individuals are well-equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to use PPE effectively. A thorough curriculum should include:

  • Proper techniques for donning and doffing PPE
  • Types of PPE available
  • Intended use of PPE
  • Inspection, care, and maintenance of PPE
  • Consequences of non-compliance

Interactive and hands-on training sessions can simulate real-world scenarios, allowing individuals to practice using PPE in a controlled environment.

Beyond the initial onboarding, offer refresher courses and updates to accommodate any changes in PPE regulations or workplace conditions. Providing access to educational materials and resources, such as manuals and instructional videos, supports continuous learning.

These training sessions should be mandatory. Mandating training programs creates a standardized foundation, ensuring that every team member has the knowledge and skills necessary to prioritize their own safety.

Post Safety Signs

Signs and posters might sound like a simple strategy, but it can be an incredibly effective way to promote and reinforce PPE use. Clear and strategically placed signs are visual reminders, communicating the importance of compliance with guidelines. Icons and symbols on signs can be especially beneficial as they’re universal and easy to understand.

For instance, signs on construction sites indicating where hard hats, safety glasses, and hearing protection are required provide a useful reminder that contributes to a safer working environment. Likewise, signs in healthcare facilities highlighting requirements for masks and gloves are vital for infection control.

Choose Appropriate PPE

Workers are more likely to consistently wear PPE if it’s comfortable. When choosing PPE, factors like ergonomic design, proper sizing and lightweight materials will enhance comfort and encourage prolonged use. Ill-fitting or uncomfortable gear will hamper productivity and lead to non-compliance, putting individuals at risk.

Approach this decision with empathy, considering the well-being and comfort of those who will be wearing the gear. Don’t cut corners when selecting PPE – involve your workers in the decision-making process as much as possible. This will ensure that the chosen PPE meets both safety requirements and individual preferences.

Additionally, you must consider the specific environmental conditions and the nature of the tasks at hand. Breathability, moisture-wicking properties, and temperature regulation become essential factors for physically demanding tasks or hot working environments.

Communicate Requirements Clearly

Clear communication is the foundation of a successful workplace safety program. Articulate PPE policies and guidelines in a straightforward manner, using language that all team members can comprehend. Clear communication reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings and ensures everyone is on the same page regarding safety expectations. Regularly updating employees on any changes to PPE protocols or safety procedures is crucial for driving compliance and maintaining a well-informed workforce.

Encouraging workers to share their experiences, concerns, and preferences regarding PPE can unveil valuable information about the practical challenges they may face. Regularly seek feedback on the comfort, fit and functionality of the provided gear. Listen to why they wear (or don’t wear) their PPE. This two-way communication will give you a better understanding of the obstacles that stand in the way of consistent PPE usage – and what strategies you can use to overcome them.

Encourage Supervisors to Monitor Compliance

Encourage supervisors to actively monitor, enforce, and maintain safety standards by overseeing PPE compliance. They can identify areas requiring additional training or intervention, ensuring team members comply and use gear appropriately. This hands-on approach reinforces the importance of safety and creates a sense of accountability within the team.

PPE Can Save Lives

Encouraging PPE compliance requires a multifaceted approach to keep your employees’ safety and well-being a top priority. By taking active measures to address this challenge, organizations can create a safety-conscious culture where the consistent use of PPE becomes second nature.

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Written by Jack Shaw | Writer & Editor

Jack Shaw

Jack Shaw, senior editor of Modded, is a respected authority on industry and business strategies.

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