In 2020, the Bureau for Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that of the 4,764 fatalities that occurred on the job, 340 of them were in the manufacturing industry. In 2019, 395,300 of the 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries that occurred were in the manufacturing sector.

Manufacturing workers are regularly exposed to potentially dangerous equipment and conditions which makes proper training and regular safety meetings an essential part of a safe work environment. There are several common safety meeting topics for manufacturing that should be a regular part of training to help avoid fines, injuries, and fatalities.

What is a Safety Meeting?

Safety meetings are OSHA-mandated, designated sessions companies use to talk to their employees about safety procedures, the risks present in their work environment, and any new pertinent information such as how to wear a new piece of PPE. Simply put, safety meetings are opportunities to cover preventative practices to keep everyone in the workplace safe.

9 Safety Meeting Topics for Manufacturing

Safety meetings can benefit manufacturers in several ways if the moderator conducts them correctly and covers topics that are relevant to the employees’ everyday jobs. Relevancy not only helps prevent common accidents but also helps keep employees engaged. If the information has no practical application, employees will tune out. 

So, what topics should SMMs cover during safety meetings? While the exact material covered will vary depending on a manufacturer’s specific industry, processes, and machinery, here are nine critical safety topics based on OSHA’s most common violations. 

  1. Equipment safety and machine guarding
  2. Energy discharge and permit-required confined spaces (lockout/tagout)
  3. Electrical wiring methods
  4. Fall protection
  5. Falling object protection
  6. Scaffolding
  7. Hazard Communication (HazCom)
  8. Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  9. Powered industrial trucks (PITs)

Note: We also include specific OSHA codes for your reference; however, we don’t recommend including them in the meeting materials. The more practical (and less theoretical), the better for employee engagement in your safety meetings.

1. Equipment Safety and Machine Guarding

The manufacturing sector depends on many different machines, most of which can be dangerous to operate. Saws, presses, cutters, dies, drums, gears, and drills are just a few machining components ​​that can injure workers if handled incorrectly. 

Many protocols exist to ensure proper machine guarding. The OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.212 gives extensive requirements for how workers can best protect themselves when dealing with dangerous equipment. While we won’t cover the entire list, some of the most important precautions include:

  • The use of barrier guards such as light curtains or two-hand operating devices, for protection from nip points and projectiles like chips and sparks
  • Point-of-operation guards, which keep workers out of the danger zone while the machine operates (examples include windows, shields, and doors)
  • Enclosures that interlock with the drive mechanism on revolving barrels, containers, or drums
  • Secure anchoring for all fixed machinery to prevent unneeded motion

Employers should consult Appendix G  for a self-inspection checklist to ensure they have all the proper machine guards installed and should include safe equipment handling in future safety meetings. 

2. Energy Discharge and Permit-Required Confined Spaces (Lockout/Tagout)

The machines used in the manufacturing sector store and discharge many different kinds of energy — and these can prove fatal if discharged improperly. Manufacturing workers must also regularly enter confined spaces where potentially dangerous machinery operates and must know how to shut down the equipment and safely enter/exit the space. Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) deals with both of these.

Energy Discharge 

There are a number of energy types employed in manufacturing machinery that can harm employees in different ways — even if they are inactive. Some examples include: 

  • Electrocution from capacitors that were never discharged (electrical) 
  • Burns from heated equipment that was never cooled or steam valves that were never released (thermal)
  • Collisions with equipment that suddenly activates (kinetic)

To avoid such unexpected injuries or fatalities, employees should understand the proper steps to take to safely discharge all stored energy and return equipment to a safe resting state. 

Permit-Required Confined Spaces (PRCS) 

Some machinery not only carries the risk of energy discharge but is large enough for employees to perform their work inside of it. These are known as permit-required confined spaces (PRCS), and OSHA characterizes them by the following:

  1. Having a space large enough that an employee can bodily enter and perform work, AND 
  2. Having limited openings for entry and exit, AND/OR
  3. Not being designed for continued occupancy

The Cal/OSHA department further characterizes PRCS by:

  1. Having an atmosphere containing hazardous gases
  2. Containing potentially engulfing material (not just liquids; other examples include sand, grain, or sugar)
  3. Possessing downward-sloping floors
  4. Having any other recognized safety hazards

The OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.147 provides a comprehensive definition of proper lockout/tagout protocols regarding both safe energy discharge and PRCS navigation. While employers should refer to the regulation to ensure their compliance, some common steps usually include:

  • Preparation
  • Shutdown
  • Isolation
  • Lockout/tagout
  • Stored energy check
  • Isolation verification

LOTO is especially important for safety meetings because it emphasizes the responsibility of all workers to keep each other safe. For example, if an employee's tag is on a machine, it's the responsibility of each team member to acknowledge it and help keep their colleague safe until it's removed. 

3. Electrical Wiring Methods

Electrical shock is a significant risk on manufacturing floors, which makes the handling of electrical wiring especially important. Wires are both a powerful source of electricity and are found in many different locations, meaning workers should exercise careful attention in knowing where potential electrical dangers exist. Some of the most common wiring-related dangers are:

  • Short or overloaded circuits 
  • Loose interconnections 
  • Substandard insulation 
  • Broken ground connections
  • Damaged wires
  • Tangled or overcrowded wires
  • Malfunctioning electrical equipment 
  • Frayed flexible cords 
  • Placement near conductors like metal or water

OSHA standards give multiple descriptions of how to properly handle electrical wiring based on wiring type and application, and while 29 CFR 1910.305 is for general use, 1910.305(a) states that this does not apply to factory settings. 

Employers should therefore consult the OSHA standard specific to their industry when planning their electrical safety compliance and sharing best practices in their safety meetings.

4. Fall Protection

Falls are one of the most common causes of workplace injuries. In 2019, 880 workers died in falls across all industries, 55 of which came from the manufacturing sector. Perhaps most tragically, fall-related injuries and fatalities are entirely preventable. To avert any potential falls, SMMs can train their employees on the helpful precautions.OSHA standard 29 CFR 1926.503 details the requirements for a fall prevention training program, some components of which include:

  • Instruction on proper harness usage 
  • Guardrail regulations 
  • Uneven flooring signs 
  • Proper use of elevating equipment 

Standard 29 CFR 1926.501 describes fall prevention protocol for the construction industry. Due to its similarities to manufacturing, this can serve as a useful template for creating a safe fall prevention program on a factory floor and can be used to guide your safety meetings.

5. Falling Object Protection

Falling objects can prove as dangerous in the workplace as worker falls themselves. The BLS estimated that 217 workplace fatalities were caused by a falling object. Some precautions employees should practice to avoid falling object injuries and fatalities include:

  • Securing tools and materials to prevent them from falling on people below
  • Barricading hazard areas and posting warning signs
  • Using toe boards, screens on guardrails, or scaffolds
  • Using debris nets, catch platforms, or canopies to deflect falling objects

OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.28 describes the regulations SMMs should include in their safety meetings to protect workers from falling objects.

6. Scaffolding

Scaffolding introduces a host of hazards to a manufacturing workplace, including falls, falling objects, and unstable structures. In 1996, after the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 25% of workers injured in scaffold-related accidents hadn’t had any scaffold training, OSHA revised the scaffolding standard 29 CFR 1926.451 to strengthen the training requirements. 

Some subject matter commonly taught in scaffolding training includes:

  • Identifying potential electrical hazards, fall hazards, and falling object hazards in the work area
  • Resolving electrical hazards
  • Erecting, maintaining and disassembling fall protection systems and falling object protection systems
  • The proper use of the scaffold and the proper handling of materials on the scaffold
  • The maximum intended load and the load-carrying capacities of the scaffolds

While manufacturers must have employees trained in scaffolding safety by a subject matter expert, they should also cover key points in safety meetings to keep the concepts fresh in employees’ minds.

7. Hazard Communication (HazCom)

Sometimes workers in manufacturing settings are exposed to hazardous chemicals, and when they are, it's essential they know how to respond. 

OSHA describes their hazard communication standard (HCS) 29 CFR 1910.1200 as being rooted in the reality that:

"Employees have both a need and a right to know the hazards and identities of the chemicals they are exposed to when working. They also need to know what protective measures are available to prevent adverse effects from occurring." 

For employers, that means clear communication about the nature of the chemicals employees may be exposed to, the effects of exposure or ingestion, and how to treat themselves should they be affected by exposure. Some examples include: 

  • Educating on proper disposal and labeling of chemicals
  • Informing employees of sign usage to depict certain chemicals and dangers
  • Identifying safe areas like protective enclosures or washing stations
  • Establishing a notification system should a chemical breakout occur 

Refer to the standard for a comprehensive set of HCS guidelines; and be proactive in making sure that your employees are well-educated on any chemicals in your workplace.

8. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment (PPE) guards manufacturing workers against projectiles, equipment, and harmful debris, but its role has become much more significant amidst the pandemic. While workplace injuries dropped from 2.7 million to 2.1 million from 2019 to 2020, workplace-related illnesses rose from 127,200 to 544,600 at the same time.

While the pandemic has elevated proper PPE use across all industries, other types of protection are especially important on the factory floor. Some of these are:

  • Safety goggles
  • Work gloves
  • Hard hats
  • Respirators 
  • Face masks 
  • Protective footwear
  • Safety harnesses

Eye and face protection is carefully detailed in OSHA standard 29 CFR 1926.102, and respiratory protection is outlined in 29 CFR 1910.134. Consult both of these to create an effective PPE program, and explain it in your regularly scheduled safety meetings.

9. Powered Industrial Trucks (PITs)

The manufacturing industry relies on many powered industrial trucks (PITs) to move both employees and equipment — and these can be dangerous if operated improperly. PITs include forklifts, hand-operated vehicles, and other heavy-duty vehicles, all of which have certain features that make them riskier to drive. Some risks are:

  • Tipping due to overhead loads
  • Crashes caused by limited visibility
  • Collisions created by the need for long stopping distances

Many PIT operators must be certified to drive industrial vehicles like these, so you should ensure all drivers have current licensure to operate their machines. You can refer to 29 CFR 1910.178 for a complete guide on OSHA's regulations regarding powered industrial trucks, and use the information there to guide your safety meeting discussions.

CMTC: The California SMM’s Safety Resource

The manufacturing industry can present safety challenges that few other sectors face. Dangerous machinery, precarious vehicles, electrical dangers, and noxious chemicals are just a few of the hazards employees may face; and providing a safe working environment may prove a daunting task to many small and medium-sized manufacturers. 

At CMTC, we have extensive expertise in creating a safe manufacturing environment for all. We pride ourselves on providing SMMs with enterprise-level resources so they can thrive in a competitive manufacturing world. Whether you'd like an analysis of your potential safety risks or help with maintaining regulatory compliance, our health and safety experts are here to help. 

Contact us today to see what we can do for you.

About the Author

Gregg Profozich

Gregg Profozich is a manufacturing, operations and technology executive who believes that manufacturing is the key creator of wealth in the economy and that a strong manufacturing sector is critical to our nation’s prosperity and security now, and for future generations. Across his 20-year plus career in manufacturing, operations and technology consulting, Mr. Profozich helped manufacturing companies from the Fortune 500 to the small, independents significantly improve their productivity and competitiveness.

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