A Letter from Scott A. Corrao, President & CEO of Reflective Apparel
To occupational health & safety (OSH) managers, procurement professionals, and businessowers in industries receiving funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal:
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) is pumping $1.2 trillion into the economy to rebuild the nation's roads and bridges, expand internet access, and other projects to upgrade the nation's infrastructure. As a result, there is an unprecedented increase in demand for safety apparel to support these projects. The massive influx of projects puts further pressure on the already strained safety apparel supply chain. We are urging occupational health & safety (OSH) managers, procurement professionals and business owners to prepare for supply chain delays, as well as beware of potential fraud. It is critical to plan ahead when it comes to purchasing required safety apparel and personal protection equipment (PPE) for the safety of workers.
Supply Chain Delays
Global supply chain disruptions in shipments of safety apparel create a safety risk for workers. Goods shipped via container ships to the United States from overseas, where a portion of safety apparel products are manufactured, used to take approximately 40 days, but now often take upwards of 70 days. Companies not prepared for such delays may experience gaps in critical safety equipment.
“Despite occasional signs of improvement, key hubs and gateways remain clogged with cargo. For shippers, this will translate to further cargo delays,” writes James Baker, container shipping editor, Lloyd’s List. “At Los Angeles and Long Beach, delays for vessel berthing ranged from 28 days to 45 days, with all North American west coast ports being either ‘challenging’ or ‘critical.’ Seattle, Vancouver and Prince Rupert all had yard density at 100% or more.”
Simon Heaney, Drewry’s senior manager of Container Research, predicts that supply will lag behind demand in the container market throughout 2022, but he anticipates that the “frenzy of orders for new containerships” will lead to a risk of overcapacity returning to the market in 2023 and beyond. “Overall, supply chain disruptions and volatility are expected to be among the biggest challenges in 2022,” according to Deloitte’s 2022 Engineering and Construction Industry Outlook.
Even though adjustments may be made to the type or style of safety apparel, it is critical to adhere to safety standards. While some safety equipment, such as hard hats, have an expiration date of up to four years, other types of safety gear, such as high visibility safety apparel and other daily use gear, must be replaced more frequently to ensure employee safety. There are numerous OSHA safety standards, as well as industry specific standards, such as ANSI (American National Standards Institute) High Visibility Safety Apparel standards, that must be followed regardless of supply chain delays. Compromising safety standards in any way puts workers at risk of serious injury or death.
Potential risks associated with supply chain delays in safety apparel include:
- Required apparel not available in a timely manner
- Workers using expired or overly worn safety apparel
- Workers using products that do not meet safety standards
- Projects being delayed due to a lack of safety apparel
While proper care and maintenance prolongs the life of safety apparel, all garments wear out over time. Safety apparel that might appear fine to an employee may, in fact, not be reflecting properly. Unfortunately, many employees are not adequately trained to inspect safety apparel.
While safety standards should not be compromised, be prepared to settle for options that are available. For instance, if a custom order for a winter reflective coat has a longer-than-expected timeline, alternatives, such as a safety vest, can be worn over existing winter attire. However, beware of investing in low-quality products that have to be replaced more frequently, as supply chain delays may make replacement products difficult to obtain in time. When it comes to safety gear that is worn, such as eye protection, reflective garments, respirator masks, etc., avoid compromising on quality and comfort. If these items are not comfortable, workers will be less inclined to wear them and be more susceptible to injury.
Just as the market was flooded with counterfeit masks as demand increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, be cautious regarding scams and inferior safety gear and safety apparel products.
“Infrastructure spending is a particularly fertile target for fraudsters. The Coalition for Public Integrity issued a comprehensive report when the infrastructure bill was being considered which stressed the need for robust oversight because of the scope, complexity, and cost of the infrastructure legislation. The report noted that without such oversight, infrastructure projects at all levels risked falling victim to fraud. For example, costs can be inflated and inferior products and materials can be substituted easily,” according to “Fighting fraud, waste, and abuse—the infrastructure bill and lessons for the future,” published by Brookings.
Concerns of a lack of accountability in the Infrastructure Deal make fraud a valid concern.
“The quality of construction projects is hard to verify. That gives contractors and builders opportunities to skimp on materials or inflate costs to earn higher profits,” writes Jetson Leder-Luis, Assistant Professor of Markets, Public Policy and Law at Boston University, in an article published by Government Executive.
Instead of providing workers with the bare minimum safety apparel to boost profits, now is an opportunity for companies to invest in upgraded safety apparel to provide a better work environment for employees and increase employee retention.
“Contractors who prioritized safety also saw greater project ROI (75%), had better employee retention rates (79%) and were able to attract the most employees (67%) in comparison to their less safety conscious counterparts (38%, 45%, 27% respectively),” according to a study from Dodge Data & Analytics study.
What can you do to stay ahead of safety apparel supply chain delays? Below are three strategies to mitigate the impact of supply chain delays to ensure workers have proper safety gear and equipment.
1) Conduct an inventory assessment.
Do a full inventory on what safety apparel, shirts, and equipment you have on hand and what supplies are running low. Then review your outlook. Assess not just immediate needs, but consider what your needs will be throughout 2022 into 2023. Examine past purchase order lead times so you have a baseline for adjusting replacement timelines.
2) Evaluate shipping delays.
Contact your vendors and ask how supply chain delays are impacting their services, if at all. Ask for estimates of delivery timelines on specific products you expect to order. Find out what products your supplier has in stock and which products are delayed. Examine current needs versus product availability. If there is a significant delay in a desired product, ask your vendor for recommendations of alternative products. The key is to be flexible and to stay compliant. While some products may be unavailable or have extended timelines, many products are in stock. Be willing to switch to vendors with in-stock inventory, if necessary.
3) Create proactive succession plans.
Evaluate replacement timelines and make adjustments to accommodate for possible shipping delays. Check with vendors to estimate possible shipping delays and adjust your purchase schedule by ordering supplies with the longest lead times first. Daily use equipment, such as reflective vests, gloves and masks, wear out faster than more durable items such as road cones. Build in additional time for large quantities of gear or custom orders. Establish a succession plan to replace gear before it becomes a safety risk. Structured programs that work on a set schedule remove inconsistencies related to human factors, such as independent maintenance and inspection. Structured programs are also budget-friendly and allow for more accurate forecasting and business planning.
With proper planning, you can keep employees safe by staying ahead of supply chain delays that impact shipments of safety apparel.
Scott A. Corrao
President & CEO of Reflective Apparel