The manufacturing sector ranks third in terms of days lost due to workplace injuries, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). This isn’t surprising considering many manufacturing workers operate heavy machinery and are exposed to a variety of physical and environmental hazards. In some cases, technology has helped manufacturers reduce the incidence of workplace injuries. But there’s still a long way to go. Fortunately, your company can reduce safety risks by implementing and enforcing safety precautions and properly training both supervisors and workers.
The Occupational and Health Safety Administration (OSHA), which enforces employment safety laws, says that companies can reduce lost work by almost 50 days a year by focusing on workplace safety. To ensure you’re doing everything you can, focus on five areas:
1. Equipment Use
Most workplace injuries can be traced to the misuse of equipment — including heavy machinery and tools. For example, accidents often occur when equipment is used for purposes other than its intended use. They’re also more likely if equipment isn’t kept in good operating condition or is stored improperly.
To minimize these risks, insist that workers use equipment only as intended and as they have been trained. Be sure to penalize any infractions of this rule. In addition, regularly clean equipment with industrial vacuums and other appropriate tools. Even a little dust can potentially cause fires and explosions under certain conditions. Also store equipment and tools in the right place and position. Equipment with electrical components should be kept in the “off” position when not in use. And if a piece of equipment isn’t functioning property, require workers to report it immediately so that it can be repaired or replaced.
2. Fire Hazards
Aside from the obvious risk to workers’ health and lives, workplace fires can lead to devastating financial losses. Imagine how profitability would suffer if you had to shut down operations to clean up, make structural repairs or even replace entire buildings.
If your plant uses combustible materials, house only the amount you need for the job. Extra stores could possibly turn a containable fire into a towering inferno. Also house flammable materials in secure, fire-resistant areas when not in use. Combustible waste from current operations should be temporarily stored in metal bins and discarded daily.
Finally, to minimize threats to human life, make sure everyone in your company complies with fire safety codes by keeping doorways and walkways clear and emergency exits clearly marked.
3. Slip-and-Fall Accidents
Slips and falls are common workplace incidents. Employees might take a tumble while working on ladders, using staircases or walking on slippery floors or uneven surfaces. Even a simple fall can require months of recovery and cause permanent physical injury.
Some common-sense measures can prevent most of these incidents. For example:
- Keep your facilities’ aisles clear.
- Clean up (or cordon off) spills immediately.
- Install anti-slip flooring in any parts of your plant where liquids are frequently used.
- Perform regular inspections of floors for loose boards, holes and protruding nails.
- Replace damaged or inferior flooring as soon as possible.
- Ensure that ladders and similar equipment are safe and in good working order.
4. Flying Objects
You should pay as much attention to hazards above workers’ heads as those below their feet. To prevent injuries from falling objects, install nets, toe boards and toe rails under parts and equipment. Require employees to store heavier objects on lower shelves and avoid stacking objects in heavily trafficked areas.
Also train workers in how to safely move objects without causing back injuries. In general, they should bend their knees and keep their backs straight when lifting. No stooping or twisting! If employees use forklifts to move objects, they should ensure that the workspace is clear of people who could be struck if the object fell out of the bucket.
5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Some workers consider PPE a hassle and may enter workspaces without proper protection. Stand firm on this point and require workers to always wear:
- Safety glasses when operating machinery that may cause flying particles or when working with caustic chemicals,
- Steel-toe boots where heavy materials could be dropped or a worker’s foot might be run over by a vehicle,
- Gloves when hands are exposed to cuts, abrasions or puncture wounds, or when working with hazardous materials,
- Ear protection when noise levels are 85 decibels or higher, and
- Hard hats if overhead objects could fall and result in head injuries.
If a worker refuses to don PPE, or only complies some of the time, take disciplinary action. Of course, the carrot works just as well as the stick. Praise and reward workers who always wear PPE and comply with other safety procedures without having to be asked repeatedly.
Taking these precautions won’t guarantee an injury-free workplace. However, these steps can minimize risks and reduce potential liability. You owe it to your workers and the future or your business to prioritize safety.