Manufacturers are continuously working to improve safety within their facilities, and their efforts are paying off. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of manufacturing injuries have improved considerably over the years, from seven injury cases per 100 people in 2003 to just four cases per 100 people in 2016. And California, despite holding the nation’s largest manufacturing sector, also had the fourth lowest rate of fatalities in the nation (only Connecticut, Delaware, and Washington fared better).
What can SMMs do to keep improving? Here are some of the most common safety hazards present in today’s manufacturing environment as cited by the Department of Labor’s OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), along with three steps to take to improve safety conditions.
- Falls. Whether it’s a ground-level slip or a fall from heights, these are responsible for the injury and death of more American workers than any other incident. In fact, OSHA has even created a Fall Prevention Campaign to raise awareness among workers and employers about fall hazards.
- Machine guarding. Operating heavy machinery has inherent risks, and proper machine guarding is essential to keep workers safe. Just last month, a factory worker’s arm became caught in a printing press at a Torrance, California plastics plant. Cal-OSHA is investigating with an eye toward improper machine guard installations.
- Powered industrial trucks. From forklifts to platform lift trucks, many industrial trucks are utilized in the manufacturing realm. OSHA has developed a strict set of requirements manufacturers must follow; while defective and outdated machinery is sometimes to blame, injury or death also occurs due to operators; as such, manufacturer’s must ensure each driver is properly trained and certified as required by law.
- Electrical. While electricians and engineers within manufacturing facilities are at the most risk, the fact is electricity provides power to practically every piece of equipment in a facility, putting everyone at risk at any time. Manufacturers must work to ensure employees understand the risks of exposed wires, open electrical panels, improperly installed equipment, and more.
- Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) procedures. LOTO ensures dangerous machines are properly shut off and can’t be started again until completion of maintenance or repair— even something as a simple alignment. Unfortunately, lack of training, or workers ignoring protocol to save a few minutes, can result in death.
So, how do manufacturers develop a strong safety culture to ensure that none of the above hazards (or others like them) occur within their facilities? We’ve identified three ways that may help to make safety a reality.
Training is a necessity, but far too often it’s not made a priority. Training also needs to be ongoing. Over time, as employees become comfortable with their duties, they may overlook certain procedures, or fail to take precautions. Ongoing training serves as a reminder for even the most tenured employees. A few areas to focus on include:
- Proper use of tools
- Proper equipment handling and cleaning
- Wearing safety equipment
- Using correct posture when lifting or employing team-lift techniques
- Staying vigilant (what to look for)
You may also want to consider OSHA training courses.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and there are many ways you can step up the safety game within your facilities through prevention.
- Install anti-slip flooring. This is especially important for facilities where liquids are frequently used. If this isn’t an option, make sure drip pans and guards are in place at any workstation where liquids are being used.
- Keep work areas and emergency exits clear. Clutter blocking exits is dangerous in the event of evacuation; clutter blocking equipment shutoffs can be deadly in the event of equipment error or misuse; and a cluttered work space can lead to employees not having enough space to use equipment properly or pick up heavy objects.
- Eliminate fire hazards. This means only using the amount of a combustible material needed for the task at hand; storing chemicals safely away from sources of ignitions; and storing waste in metal bins and disposing of it daily. Also, make sure extinguishers are easily accessible and in working condition.
- Consider the Purchase of industrial vacuums. This goes hand-in-hand with eliminating fire hazards. Combustible dust is prevalent in plants, and sweeping dust doesn’t eliminate it, which can easily cause an explosion if it catches fire.
- Review the use of fall nets, toe boards, and toe rails. This can help stop objects (and sometimes people) from falling. And always keep your heaviest items on the lowest shelves.
- Secure heavy equipment. Equipment that could topple over onto someone needs to be bolted down or otherwise secured.
Depending on your particular line of manufacturing, you may also consider automation through advanced robotics. While automation was generally regarded as a way to improve efficiency and productivity, it’s now being employed to increase safety as well. Robots can perform unsafe tasks, including hazardous material handling, welding, or simply just working on assembly lines doing repetitive tasks that wear down a workers’ joints and muscles.
Everyone, at every level, needs to be held accountable for safety. You can’t rely on safety manager(s) to operate in a vacuum (and if you don’t have a safety manager, consider appointing or hiring one). To encourage accountability, set up the following:
- Define responsibilities. Employees should know what aspects of plant safety they are responsible for, and have goals and plans for themselves and their area or department. You may also consider forming a safety committee consisting of individuals across departments who meet regularly to discuss protocols and dangers.
- Encourage reporting. Employees should be encouraged to report unsafe conditions immediately, and supervisors must react swiftly. Employees should also be encouraged to suggest safety protocols; after all, they’re on the floor every day and have first-hand knowledge of the work performed. Lastly, provide multiple reporting options in case an employee is afraid to go right to the top. A chain of command, to ensure supervisors are held accountable, is one such option.
- Take breaks. Tired workers are more apt to make mistakes and less likely to spot hazards. Enforce regular breaks to keep them more alert.
The national reduction in workplace injuries across the country and in California is encouraging, but SMMs must remain vigilant. Knowing the most common hazards, how to prevent them, and encouraging a safety of culture will help to further reduce (and hopefully one day eliminate) injury cases. One last suggestion: remember to celebrate your successes! Making your safety efforts known will help keep employees motivated and give them more incentive to keep up the good work.