Manufacturing is one of the most dangerous professions in the United States. Hazards like electricity, heavy machinery, heights and extreme temperatures all have the potential to seriously injure manufacturing plant workers.
Effective safety training and practices can reduce the threat these hazards pose, and encourage workers to act in a way that prioritizes workplace safety.
These are five of the best ways to increase worker safety at manufacturing plants.
1. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Safety equipment is essential for any manufacturing facility. Employees who work without PPE put both themselves and others at risk.
The PPE a particular workplace needs will vary, depending on the type of equipment the facility uses. Workers who use welding equipment or work near welders, for example, will need eye and face protection, respirators, heat resistant clothing and rubber-soled safety shoes.
This equipment will protect them against the hazards that come with welding — electricity, heat and extreme light.
Managers should both ensure that PPE, and training in how to properly use it, are provided on-site. They should also make sure that PPE is actually being used with regular observation of on-the-floor behavior. Otherwise, workers may still be at risk.
Safety platforms and software sometimes include dashboards and similar data visualization technology that can help managers pinpoint patterns in PPE usage or non-usage throughout the workplace — helping managers to identify possible problem areas in plant safety.
2. Layout and Plant Design
Upgrades to plant layout can mitigate common safety threats. Anti-slip flooring, for example, is a must in facilities where liquids are frequently used. Combined with drip pans and other guards, these flooring materials can help to eliminate falls. Fall nets, railing and toe boards can also prevent slips, falls and similar injuries.
Clutter can also have a major impact on workplace safety. Keeping work areas and emergency exits clear of objects will ensure employees have enough space to work properly. Clearing clutter will also ensure that shutoffs and other essential controls are accessible.
Safe layout also means ensuring that hazardous, toxic or flammable materials are properly stored.
Effective ventilation and tools like industrial vacuums control dust, which can become a serious fire hazard if left to build up, as well as dangerous particulate matter, like silica dust, which can cause serious long-term health issues.
Managers can use tools like air quality monitors and dust sensors to track the level of particulate matter in plant air. If air quality begins to deteriorate or dip into unsafe levels, you can know to replace filters, call for the use of air purification equipment or vacuums or schedule HVAC system inspection.
Information from safety monitoring your plant may already be performing — like silica dust exposure monitoring, mandated by OSHA — may also help you to identify potential issues with facility ventilation or air quality.
3. Heavy Machinery Safety Equipment
Operating heavy machinery always comes with some level of risk — understanding and mitigating these risks will help managers make a manufacturing plant much safer.
Any machine part that can cause injury should also be safeguarded. OSHA-recommended guarding devices like barrier guards, for example, can protect workers from injury by power presses and similar machines.
Factory machines pose a threat to workers while they are in use, but can also injure or kill workers if they are toppled, rock back and forth or fall.
All facility machines should be secured so that they will not move or fall while in use.
4. Workplace Ergonomics
According to data from the BLS, musculoskeletal disorder (MSD)-related injuries are the single largest category of workplace injuries, responsible for almost 30% of all worker’s compensation expenses.
These injuries, also called repetitive stress injuries (RSIs), are typically caused by awkward or difficult motions that strain a person’s muscles.
Educating employees on common ergonomic risk factors — like bending or twisting the torso — can help them to avoid muscle strain and injury that may lead to an MSD-related injury. Additionally, plant managers can invest in robotics to automate repetitive tasks. Collaborative robots are great for working with current employees, can handle odd tasks and can reduce the risk of injury.
Because poor fitness and health habits can be a risk factor for these injuries, providing resources that encourage good nutrition, exercise and regular doctor’s visits may help employees to avoid MSD-related injuries.
A National Safety Council survey found that 43% of workers believed they didn’t get enough sleep to perform critical functions at work. For managers, being able to recognize fatigue and burnout is one of the best ways to increase worker safety, because workers are more likely to make mistakes and suffer from MSD-related injuries when tired.
5. Training and a Workplace Culture of Safety
Safety equipment and procedures are only effective if workers know how to use them. Regular safety training will help the facility ensure that workers can apply effective safety practices, like lockout/tagout, and know how to use the PPE they’re provided.
The most effective training programs tend to be interactive, take advantage of learning technology and involve some level of on-the-job training.
Interactivity and on-the-job training help to make education more engaging and provide opportunities for employees to ask questions. Learning technology helps managers to organize lessons and track training progress.
Verifying the effectiveness of training programs once they are in place will also help managers ensure that plant employees have the knowledge and skills needed to work safely.
Observing on-the-floor worker behavior manually or with safety technology, tracking instances of unsafe behavior, will allow managers to tell if programs are really making the plant safer.
Training is also an opportunity to cultivate a workplace culture of safety. The safest workplaces are ones where employees are encouraged to report unusual activity or potential safety threats and know that cutting corners won’t be tolerated.
Strategies for building a workplace safety culture, safety communication and leadership will ensure that employees put safety knowledge into practice.
Finding the Right Strategy to Improve Manufacturing Plant Safety
With the correct approach, managers can make manufacturing plants much safer for workers. Awareness of common safety hazards and how to prevent them will be critical in making the plant safer. Effective training and safety equipment like PPE will also be essential.
Article by – Emily Newton
Emily Newton is an industrial journalist with over five years of experience covering innovations in the manufacturing and logistics sectors.