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The Basics of Manufacturing Safety and Compliance

Toby Graham /
  • Categories: EHS
worker in warehouse

Falls. Chemical spills. Fires. Explosions. Broken bones. Lacerations. Forklift collisions. These are just a few of the kinds of injuries and disasters that can happen in a manufacturing environment.

Such incidents are not only tragic and frequently fatal for workers, but also extremely expensive for employers. Between workers’ compensation, legal fees, regulatory penalties, employee turnover, diminished productivity, and the costs of fixing or replacing broken or damaged equipment, a single accident can financially decimate a business.

To avoid industrial catastrophes, keep your people from harm, ensure manufacturing compliance, and protect your bottom line, you need to get serious about safety.

What Is Manufacturing Safety?

Manufacturing safety is everything your organization does to ensure the physical well-being of the workers in your manufacturing facility or facilities. It’s a simple idea that can be highly complex in practice, encompassing multiple people, processes, and technologies:

  • Your people need to keep themselves and others safe. They need to be knowledgeable about workforce safety protocols, engaged in safe working habits, and empowered to speak up and take action when working conditions become dangerous.
  • Your business processes need to center on safety. Every policy, task, routine, and decision by leadership or management needs to minimize injury and risk, and encourage a culture of safety among your workforce.
  • Your technologies need to support and facilitate safety. The machines your workers use to do their jobs need to be designed and installed with safety in mind. Every piece of technology should help people protect themselves and others rather than get in the way.

In short, safety needs to be embedded in every element of your manufacturing business. It’s your responsibility to eliminate the potential for workplace accidents. Every safety risk poses an existential threat to your people and your business. And any number of incidents greater than zero should be considered unacceptable.

Why Is Manufacturing Safety So Important?

Manufacturing safety is about more than checking a few boxes or putting up “safety first” signage.

First and foremost, manufacturing safety keeps people alive and unharmed. If you and your workers want to continue living—and if you don’t want blood on your hands—you need to fully commit to and invest in a safe workplace.

Manufacturing safety is also tied to workforce productivity. The fewer injuries and accidents your employees experience, the fewer disruptions your business faces.

Third, manufacturing safety is an essential form of risk management. Every dangerous machine, behavior, and process is a liability that needs to be corrected immediately. The more risks you have, and the longer you wait, the higher the price you’ll pay when something goes wrong.

Last, manufacturing safety is a legal requirement. To ensure your organization is in compliance with federal and state laws, and to make sure you don’t become the subject of a lawsuit or criminal charge, you need to create and maintain a workplace free of hazards.

Keep in mind that manufacturing safety and profitability go hand-in-hand. Safe companies perform better and stay in business longer than unsafe companies—it’s a fact.

What Are the Top Safety Risks in Manufacturing?

Manufacturing workers face myriad potential dangers and uncertainties. Many have to do with machinery and environmental hazards, but there are also countless risks that stem from people’s choices and behaviors. For example, an unguarded table saw blade and a worker who neglects to wear protective glasses can both be considered serious industrial safety risks.

Some risks are more common than others, and some are more serious than others, but all can result in injuries, business disruptions, and punishment by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the federal agency in charge of workplace safety.

The following industrial safety topics were some of the most common hazards and OSHA rules broken most often in 2019:

Machine Guarding Issues

Industrial equipment is dangerous. Machines such as power saws, shears, guillotine cutters, presses, milling machines, fans, conveyor belts, palletizers and revolving drums can slice, crush, and tear off workers’ body parts. Sometimes, hazards are caused by nip points (also called pinch points)—points where one or more parts (such as gears) rotate. In other cases, machines generate sparks or flying chips that can injure workers.

For these reasons, OSHA requires that certain pieces of equipment have specific protection mechanisms in place. This is what’s known as machine guarding. Examples of machine guarding include barriers, light curtains, and two-hand trips.

Machine guarding typically applies to the point of operation—that is, the location on or near the machine where work is performed. However, many machines need to be safeguarded at multiple points. Additionally, there are plenty of instances where OSHA requires or recommends secondary controls, such as alarms and fences.

Learn more about machine guarding.

Lockout/Tagout Issues

Some machines can seriously injure or kill workers. These machines are dangerous because they release hazardous energy—in the form of electricity, steam, chemicals, or another kind of power.

Hazardous energy can be released whether the machine is being used or not. This is why it’s important for dangerous machines to be completely shut off before servicing and maintenance. For example:

  • A capacitor that hasn’t been properly disconnected could electrocute someone trying to repair it.
  • A hydraulic press that hasn’t been de-energized could crush someone.
  • A steam valve that hasn’t been bled out could scald someone.

OSHA’s Control of Hazardous Energy standard, usually called the “Lockout/Tagout” standard (or LOTO for short), outlines what workers should do to safely depower dangerous machines. One of the main steps of lockout/tagout is literally locking the machine in the “off” position and adding a tag with the name of the person who carries the key to the lock.

Learn more about Lockout/Tagout.

Powered Industrial Truck (AKA Forklift) Accidents

Forklifts, which OSHA likes to call “powered industrial trucks,” are useful vehicles. Countless manufacturers rely on forklifts to move large/heavy objects.

However, the things that make forklifts useful also make them dangerous. Accidents happen throughout businesses and industries. Loads can fall and crush people. Forklifts can tip over, injuring drivers and workers nearby. Pedestrians can get hit, which is especially common in workplaces where a lot of people are moving around on foot. These risks vary by the environment and the kind of forklift being used.

OSHA’s forklift rules cover issues such as the following:

  • the maximum weight a forklift can safely carry at one time
  • how a load should be balanced on the forklift
  • how materials should be raised and lowered via forklift
  • forklift operator training
  • safe speeds for driving a forklift
  • how to safely use a forklift around pedestrians
  • how to use forklifts to safely transport hazardous materials
  • how to use forklifts in and around docks and other loading zones

Learn more about forklift safety.

Hazard Communication Issues

OSHA has a Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) that outlines how you’re supposed to inform your employees about dangerous chemicals in the workplace. It’s a set of rules that covers labeling and tracking chemicals, as well as employee training on chemicals.

Substances that fall under the HCS include…

  • acids
  • asbestos
  • disinfectants
  • glues
  • lead, mercury, and other heavy metals
  • paints
  • petroleum products
  • solvents

…and many more. According to OSHA, “[m]ost chemicals used in the workplace have some hazard potential, and thus will be covered by the rule.” For a full index of chemicals overseen by OSHA, click here.

Under the HCS, the following needs to be in place anywhere workers could be exposed to hazardous substances:

  1. material safety data sheets (MSDS or SDS for short) for every chemical on the jobsite
  2. a written hazard communication plan
  3. comprehensive hazard communication training for all workers who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals

Learn more about hazard communication.

Personal Protective Equipment Issues

Personal protective equipment (“PPE” for short) is exactly what it sounds like: equipment people wear on their bodies to protect themselves. OSHA requires workers to wear PPE whenever they could become injured or sick by not wearing it.

There are many different kinds of PPE, with each piece designed for a specific job or working condition. Common examples of PPE include hard hats, safety glasses, goggles, face shields, gloves, steel-toed boots, respirators, earplugs, vests, coveralls, and hazmat suits and other full body suits. PPE needs to fit comfortably and properly, or else it may not work as intended. It must be regularly inspected and maintained, and replaced when no longer functional. Employers must supply and pay for all PPE necessary to keep their employees safe.

Of all the body parts that PPE protects, the face and eyes are among the most vulnerable. Many safety incidents involve a workers’ face or eyes getting struck by an object, injured by flying particles, burned by acids or chemicals, or exposed to light radiation. In many of these cases, a worker suffers permanent damage to their vision or even goes blind.

Learn more about PPE and eye and face protection.

Respiratory Hazards

Not all air is safe to breathe. The oxygen in a certain environment may contain hazardous fumes, dust, or other contaminants.

Common airborne contaminants include particulate matter (e.g. silica dust), smoke, gases, mists, vapors, and aerosols. These and other contaminants can cause short- and long-term health problems, such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, impaired thinking, decreased lung capacity, loss of consciousness, and cancer.

OSHA’s respiratory protection standard outlines how manufacturers should minimize worker exposure to hazardous air. First, the standard requires employers to assess and eliminate airborne hazards if possible. But if controlling the environment isn’t possible or doesn’t provide adequate protection, employers must provide their workers with respiratory devices (usually called “respirators”). The standard lays out which respirators to use—and how to use those respirators—in various situations, along with maintenance, inspection, and medical follow-up procedures.

Learn more about respiratory protection.

Manufacturing Compliance: What Safety Rules Apply to the Industry?

The standards above are just a handful of the many safety rules manufacturers need to comply with. There’s an alphabet soup of regulatory agencies and industry standard-setting organizations out there, each with their own rule sets and priorities.

There are numerous federal laws concerning manufacturing safety. These laws are enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), among others.

Depending on the state or states in which you operate, you may also need to ensure compliance with local laws that are in many cases more stringent than federal regulations. These laws are administered by OSHA State Plans as well as various branches of the government at state, county, and municipal levels.

On top of all that, there are multiple international standards governing the manufacturing industry. Examples include…

  • ISO 9001
  • ISO 13845
  • IEC 61215
  • IEC 61646

For more information and specific guidance about any of these safety rules, please contact us.

9 Best Practices for Creating a Safe, Compliant Manufacturing Environment

All these hazards, rules, and pressures of doing business—it’s a lot for any manufacturing company to handle.

Where do you start? What’s the ideal approach for creating a safe working environment?

Answering those questions would require a separate article (or several), but we don’t want to leave you in the lurch. Here’s a quick manufacturing safety checklist of best practices, along with links to resources with more information:

1. Conduct frequent manufacturing audits and inspections. Learn more.

2. Manage safety incidents and issues quickly. Learn more.

3. Train your workforce effectively. Learn more.

4. Assign corrective and preventive actions. Learn more.

5. Complete required OSHA logs and other regulatory paperwork on time. Learn more.

6. Keep your SDS library up-to-date. Learn more.

7. Keep all critical safety information and regulatory documents in an accessible place. Learn more.

8. Use mobile-ready EHS software to automate manual processes and make safety as easy as possible. Learn more.

9. Cultivate a safety culture. Learn more.

You don’t need to manage everything alone.

We’re here to help you.

KPA is the leading option for manufacturing safety software, consulting services, and interactive training. Our team of manufacturing safety experts will help you conduct audits and inspections, manage your regulatory obligations and paperwork, create a safety culture, minimize risk, and maximize productivity.

Discover why manufacturers of all kinds trust KPA’s EHS expertise, software platform, and training.

Ready to see how KPA can transform your organization? Schedule a demo with us.

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