In many industries, safety has a direct correlation with performance and productivity. When something is unsafe for workers, regardless of how long an operation continues unfettered in the meantime, eventually, accidents happen and it causes shutdowns or worse. It’s all part of limiting risk or mitigating the potential for damage and delays in an operation. It also means that honoring a safety culture, or prioritizing the safety of all workers, can help secure an operation in so many ways, not the least of which manifests as an improvement to output and the bottom line.
One could argue then that supply chain safety is paramount to the entire industry, and that everyone should be on board, looking out for their health, following protocols, and working towards a more consistent safety culture. After all, safety is a staple tenet of supply chain management. But it’s not just a responsibility of the working folks. It’s a company-wide requirement that also calls for lots of planning and foundational changes. Once again, everyone has to be on board from the top down.
Let’s explore 5 ways that supply chain operators can make safety practices second nature:
1. Make Sure Everyone Understands Safety Culture
It’s easy to talk about creating a culture of safety and prioritizing safety in the workplace and make some basic changes. Conceptually, it’s a more complex process to introduce, that either comes with many benefits, or many consequences when it’s not honored. Some of those include higher operating costs, damaged products or goods, a negative reputation, legal concerns or problems, increased worker turnover, and much more.
So, what is safety culture? How can businesses establish proper supply chain safety protocols? It starts with company values or the core mission. Do you prioritize speed over safety and efficiency, for example? Leaders, managers, core workers, everyone at the company should be focused on safe-minded attitudes. Workers will need to strengthen their awareness of risks, preventing accidents, and making their tasks safer. Managers and leaders will also need a strong understanding of current operations and the associated risks. But putting measures in place to create a safer environment is only the first step in a long process. Consistent mindfulness is necessary to continue that safety day-to-day.
Empowering everyone to make changes on a personal level will ensure that they’re looking out not just for their own interests and safety, but also for the safety of their colleagues and peers. Of course, this all ties into the next point, below.
2. Create Proper Reporting Channels
When someone discovers a potential safety concern, how can they share it with others? Every operation needs to establish a reporting channel, in some capacity, to allow people the opportunity to build awareness. Maybe a machine or piece of hardware is malfunctioning? Maybe there’s a huge spill somewhere in the facility?
The right reporting system allows workers to point out a problem, share it with the community, and take action. Other workers can avoid a hazardous area, for example. The proper protective gear can be issued or assigned. Maintenance and cleanup crews can take action faster and know where they’re needed. All of these teams work together to improve general safety.
It sounds straightforward, but communication is a huge problem in many facilities, especially when there are siloed departments and teams. Part of that safety culture involves giving people the power to protect themselves and their colleagues. How can you expect anyone to stay safe if they’re not informed, or not aware of what’s happening around them?
3. Leverage Technology
One of the greatest features of modern smart technologies is the option to monitor happenings in real-time and send out instant alerts, whether to mobile devices, company-issued systems, or so on. The technology can even be implemented in mission-critical systems or machines, with more localized notifications for the surrounding personnel. An excellent example is how a forklift sends out loud warnings when it’s backing up. It’s very basic, yes, but also it tells anyone in the vicinity to stay clear.
By leveraging this technology you’re making a physical commitment to safety while helping to empower your workforce at the same time. If you’re on the floor working and you hear alerts — it doesn’t matter if they’re loud sound effects or pre-programmed communications — there’s a lot less to worry about in that sense. The system will notify you when there’s a potential danger, giving you ample time to take action or be more mindful of the situation. In a way, it automates and democratizes safety culture, but there’s definitely something to be said about the reliability of the related systems. Companies must continue to maintain these technologies so that the workforce knows they’re indeed trustworthy and working as intended.
4. Secure the Resources
Depending on the environment, safety culture may also require physical resources like personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, new components or parts, and so on. It’s imperative for companies to secure the budget for such a thing, but also to secure the resources too. For supply chain safety, in particular, there should be a dedicated team for this. They should regularly assess risks and threats and then work collaboratively with live teams to take action.
Outdated or damaged gear should be replaced. Malfunctioning equipment should be serviced promptly, or replaced. Dangerous conditions should be dealt with, as soon as possible, and making sure the related supplies are available should be up to the safety task force. Most importantly, these teams should work in tandem to secure proper safety for all, not independently.
It’s also important to think about new opportunities, like how you can support your teams on the supply chain floor. Perhaps there’s a cobot, or collaborative robot, that can take over a particularly troublesome task? Cobots can be used to automate repetitive tasks, carry heavy resources or equipment, and even take over many assembly-line systems. Taking time to think about how you can improve standard operations for your workers is absolutely critical for improving safety and promoting more positive working conditions. Those daily tasks, no matter how simple, may be taxing on their bodies.
5. Create Failsafes
Take a moment to consider how safety is handled with automated machinery or equipment. A machine itself is generally inspected and serviced, but also there’s usually a failsafe in place. That could be a rail or guide that engages seconds before a disaster. Or, it could be a program built into the software to power down the machine at a moment’s notice.
Whatever the case, these fail safes are designed to be the last line of defense, which is exactly what you need in a culture of safety. What kind of fail safes do you have in place for your operation? Think outside of the box for this one. Do you have people in place to monitor a dangerous situation and alert everyone involved? Are there devices, technologies, or roles you can implement to reduce accidents or risk?
Should there always be a spotter for forklift drivers, for example? What kind of policies need to be created to ensure that happens? What about the training? Is there a system of checks and balances for making sure the guideline is always followed? Yes, there are lots of questions here, and few answers, but that’s the point. It is your and your team’s job to consider those fail safes, implement them, and make sure the related policies and procedures are always adhered to.
Safety Culture Involves Everyone
To close out, there’s one theme you’ll notice right away, and it’s that safety culture is not an isolated paradigm. It takes everyone to make it work, build awareness, take action, and preserve the related atmosphere. From the executive team to the supply chain floor, everyone should understand what’s required, how to secure their safety, and how to protect each other. From there, it’s about putting the policies, hardware, and resources in place to preserve that safety, all while maintaining it and keeping everything in good working order.
It just highlights how important safety really is in the grand scheme of things and goes to show just how much of an impact it can have on standard operations.