Strategies for developing a shop floor safety plan

Developing an exhaustive workplace safety strategy is the best way to ensure workers avoid injury on the shop floor.

Hazards abound on the shop floor even with the rise of sophisticated manufacturing technology. More than 450,000 workers within the sector suffered injuries on the job in 2015, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Approximately 535 perished during this span, a slight increase over fatality figures recorded one year earlier. The reality is, when man and machine share the same space, problems are bound to materialize. With this in mind, organizations in the industry should try as best they can to ensure safety in production areas. Developing an exhaustive workplace safety strategy is the best way to tackle this issue. How? The process normally includes several key phases. 

Understand common hazards
Before operational teams can meaningfully address shop floor safety hazards, they must identify them. There are six primary dangers that pose a threat to manufacturing workers, Plant Engineering reported.

Chemicals are one of the most serious hazards, as these substances can cause life-threatening burns or respiratory issues. In recent years, employers have improved safety precautions tailored to this issue and chemical-related injuries have declined as a result. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has recorded only 24 instances of chemical burning or exposure since 2013. Elevated working areas are another major hazard. Unfortunately, OSHA distributes a startling number of violations for inadequate fall protection. The agency doled out almost 7,000 last year, according to the National Safety Council. Machinery is of course the most talked about danger within manufacturing operations – and for good reason. OSHA handed out almost 6,000 citations for ineffective lockout/tagout and machine guarding procedures in 2016.

Manufacturing organizations looking to address safety should take these and other common hazards into account when developing new and improved protocols. Simply understanding where the risks lie can ease this process and give ground-level implementers direction.

Manufacturers can mitigate shop floor risks with exhaustive safety plans.Manufacturers can mitigate shop floor risks with exhaustive workplace safety plans.

Get an internal baseline
In addition to gaining insight into sector-specific risks, firms should look inward and evaluate their own worker safety histories, according to Maintenance Technology. Reviewing existing guidelines and past violations is wise, as this information can help manufacturers see where they stand. Additionally, experts often recommend conducting risk assessments on mission-critical production assets. Most should provide answers to three key questions:

  • What machine-related hazards exist in the workplace?
  • How can these dangers impact employees?
  • Are there feasible solutions for mitigating machine-related risks?

This simple exercise provides a launch pad for operation​-wide safety improvement efforts. It also yields data that can be used to convince executive stakeholders that additional spending is necessary.

Address obvious flaws
Manufacturers can dig into the meat of the safety strategy development process by first addressing obvious flaws. For example, many firms struggle with hazard communications. In fact, OSHA gave out more than 5,600 violations for ineffective shop floor signage last year, the NSC reported. This is of course an easy fix. Areas that include hazardous equipment or production components should feature clear signage that comports with OSHA and American National Standards Institute requirements, according to Maintenance Technology. However, organizations should not post too many communications, as this could confuse employees and actually cause unsafe situation to develop.

Additionally, should machine risk assessment yield easy-to-address risks, operational teams must conduct mitigation activities as soon as possible. For instance, machine guarding activities can drop off over time, resulting in serious risks. Last year, OSHA distributed almost 2,500 violations associated with the subject. While not as easy to tackle as hazard notification, manufacturers can improve machine guarding across the operation with little fuss. It all comes down to selecting the right guarding equipment. There are two options, according to Plant Services. Hard guards are physical barriers that protect asset operators from potentially dangerous mechanical components. Radio frequency guards are more advanced, leveraging control units, couplers and antennae to sense when employees move too close to machines and kill the power. Both options see wide use today.

Once these obvious oversights have been addressed, firms can formulate long-term safety strategies.

Find a sustained solution
Effective safety plans touch on multiple operational areas and integrate with ancillary activities. Organizations developing general safety policies should focus on several central variables, according to the NSC. The group recommends first working on ways to prevent slip, trips and falls, which account for a large number of workplace injuries across myriad sectors, including manufacturing. Employers normally mitigate the probability of these injuries by ensuring that flooring is in compliance with OSHA standards and designing cleaning strategies for taking care of spills and other similar hazards. The NSC also advises firms to make sure fire prevention methods are up to code, especially when facilities include tightly packed areas with few exits. In addition to these larger issues, revised safety programs should tackle little-considered variables like dust management and clutter control. While seemingly minor, mismanaging these small details can compromise employee safety.

On top of putting together a general workplace safety strategy, manufacturers should evaluate related processes to ensure they too allow workers to navigate the shop floor without sustaining injuries. For example, many organizations improve their asset maintenance plans as a way to bolster workplace safety, Manufacturing Business Technology reported. Switching from a reactive approach to a preventive strategy is the ideal move. Why? Preventive maintenance programs help technicians keep machinery in tip-top shape, reducing the likelihood of mechanical mishaps that injure workers, or worse, claim lives. This methodology also holds other benefits. Adopters regularly see declines in downtime, allowing them to maintain effective supply chains and save on plant maintenance costs. 

Developing an effective preventive maintenance plan takes work, as operations personnel must re​jigger day-to-day activities and information technology teams must adopt computerized maintenance management software and other digital tools capable of supporting such a workflow. However, the effort is well worth it in the end.

"Many organizations improve their asset maintenance plans as a way to bolster workplace safety."

Similarly, organizations should look into how they manage the various production materials and spare machine parts that often populate plants, according to the NSC. Unused items can clutter the shop floor and other key spaces, producing fire or slip, trip or fall hazards that put worker safety at risk. With this in mind, manufacturers would be wise to create OSHA-compliant strategies for storing on-site items. Again, advanced technology can help here. Maintenance and operations staff can easily track assets of all kinds using CMMS solutions.

General safety programs and granular initiatives such as the ones mentioned above can give firms the power to maintain safe work environments over the long term.

While manufacturing facilities will always post inherent risks to the workers who navigate them, organizations in the industry should do their part to mitigate hazards via well-planned safety strategies. Improvements in this area will not only please employees but also result in more efficient workflows and increasing revenue-building opportunities.

Is your manufacturing firm looking to bolster workplace safety by improving key shop floor processes? Connect with eRPortal Software today. Our industry-leading computerized maintenance management solutions give users the power to establish and maintain effective preventive maintenance strategies. And, the platforms materials management components make it easy to track assets across the shop floor, including replacement machine part and essential product components. Want to learn more about our CMMS solution. Contact us to see how the software fits into your manufacturing operation.    

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