While safety in the manufacturing industry has gradually improved over the last several decades, the concerns are still very real. Despite the move toward automation, humans remain at the center of today’s manufacturing processes — handling materials and manipulating machinery that subjects them to risk. In addition, the cultures of many companies still emphasize productivity over safety, exposing their employees to serious injuries.
Indeed, roughly four in every 100 manufacturing workers are injured or become ill on the job every year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. And of the 10,000 severe injuries that occur annually in the workplace, the highest proportion is in the manufacturing sector — which accounts for 57 percent of all amputations and 26 percent of all hospitalizations.
Manufacturers that aren’t committed to maintaining safe work environments put employees and their businesses in jeopardy. In 2015, for example, 353 U.S. manufacturing workers died from on-the-job accidents, the highest fatality rate for the manufacturing industry since 2008. Moreover, companies that don’t prioritize safety expose themselves to financial risk. For U.S. businesses, the most disabling non-fatal injuries add up to a whopping $62 billion in direct compensation costs per year — or more than $1 billion per week, according to the 2016 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index.
So what can manufacturing companies do to protect their employees from safety hazards? Consider the following five tips:
- Make safety a leadership priority. At the end of the day, what’s important to every single person in an organization mirrors the priorities of their boss. If workers believe in safety, but their manager solely evaluates them on production output, employees will learn to favor productivity at the expense of safety. As a result, a safe workplace must be established at the top levels of an organization. By prioritizing safety, a company’s owners set the tone and values for their entire workforce.
- Hire supervisors who value safety efforts. Another key to workplace safety is committed supervisors. Workplace injuries often result from employees who aren’t effectively supervised on safety best practices. Therefore, it’s critical that manufacturers choose supervisors dedicated to a safe workplace. If your supervisors care about safety but lack leadership skills, they can work to develop those skills. But if they have leadership abilities and lack commitment to safety, they could lead your workforce down a dangerous path.
- Establish safety best practices. While there are many types of accidents in the workplace, the most common I see are electrocutions while maintaining “live” machinery, worker falls, and crushed body parts that result from getting caught in moving equipment. To avoid these hazards, manufacturers must protect employees from hazardous energy sources while servicing machines and equipment. They should also create platforms, guard rails, and other fall protection measures to protect employees working at high elevations. And they should build shields and other barriers into their equipment to prevent body parts from coming into contact with hazardous machinery parts.
- Implement easy-to-follow safety procedures. Another factor to consider is the ease of adherence to safety procedures. In a nutshell, the less effort/time-consuming safety practices are, the more likely they’ll be followed. Therefore, safety procedures should be designed to be as easy to apply as possible. Take an electrical disconnect that de-energizes a piece of equipment, for example. If workers have to walk 500 feet to flip the switch, they’re more likely to skip that step than if the switch is just two feet away. By installing that disconnect closer to where employees actually work, employers increase the chances their workers will actually use it.
- Consistently reinforce your safety expectations. To be effective, manufacturers need to ensure their written safety policies and procedures are concise and clear. They also need to continually communicate and reinforce their safety expectations. Both supervisors and workers should be evaluated on their adherence to safety standards, and safe behavior should be consistently recognized. At the same time, be sure to avoid monetary rewards, prize drawings, or other safety incentive programs that deter employees from reporting on-the-job injuries and illnesses.
With a strong commitment to safety, manufacturing companies can avoid the tragic workplace accidents that can ruin their business—and their employees’ lives. To learn more, visit the“Workplace Safety” webpage.
Bill Kessler is Safety Director at Vigilant.