Creating Safe Facilities
Companies should keep in mind that while standards are in place for a reason, exceeding them will always create a safer workplace.
- By Michael Hess
- Jul 15, 2019
Whether working on upgrading an already established facility or setting up a new manufacturing space, creating a safe working environment is one of the most important tasks for any industrial organization. Starting safe practices from the origination of the facility is best, but even the most seasoned companies can set an annual agenda to make safety improvements to their space.
Establishing facility safety takes time, focus, and effort, and maintaining and reevaluating those practices should be an ongoing process for as long as the companies are in business. This is the only way to continually ensure employees' safety. But rest assured; there are concrete and straightforward steps that companies can take today to get a facility safety program up and running—and running well.
Companies Benefit from Prioritizing Safety in Facilities
The best benefit that companies gain from prioritizing safety in their facilities is, of course, ensuring that employees are protected on the job. Worker welfare should always be the company's top concern. When it is, everyone wins.
In addition to ensuring that workers return home uninjured at the end of each day, safe facilities can help ensure that businesses have less downtime and lost time accidents for employees and lower workers' compensation and insurance rates for the organization. Emphasizing employee safety also fosters contentment among workers, resulting in better performance and retention. High safety standards are also appealing to prospective employees, making recruitment an easier and more productive process.
While facility safety should be tailored to accommodate a company's specific plant and workforce size, there are also many general guidelines that should be incorporated into all safety programs. Companies should hope for the best but need to plan for the worst when it comes to safety.
As they are planning, businesses should first focus on facility layout. They should establish safe perimeters (at least 6 feet); provide lane markings around electrical boxes and forklift routes; ensure exit doors and exit paths are always open and free; and guarantee that fire extinguishers are always accessible.
Additionally, to avoid trip hazards, companies should implement the 5S method (or Kaizen method). This process of continuous organizational improvement focuses on five critical steps (Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain) to establish and maintain an efficient, functioning facility, in which all equipment has a place and always remains in or is returned to that place. By using the 5S method, companies ensure they get a bonus 6S: safety.
Furthermore, companies should keep in mind that while standards are in place for a reason, exceeding them will always create a safer workplace. They shouldn't be afraid to go above and beyond when it comes to facility spacing and lighting.
Hazard Signage is a Constant Reminder to Stay Safe
Providing signage is an incredibly important part of ensuring employee safety, both for those physically operating machinery and for those in the vicinity of active equipment. Signage helps keep everyone informed and on the same page, drastically reducing the risk of accidents.
According to OSHA, poor control of hazardous energy, poor machine guarding, and fall risks are among the top ten causes of workplace accidents. Safety signage can protect against each of these hazards.
For example, scaffold inspection tags detail the equipment's condition and help ensure regular inspections; ladder safety signs detail proper and improper use; and fall hazard signs keep workers informed and alert about their working conditions.
Lockout/tagout identification and tags safeguard against the release of hazardous energy during maintenance by ensuring the equipment is properly disabled ahead of time and that no one except the worker(s) servicing it can reactivate it.
Machine guarding tags alert workers of what precautions need to be taken when operating certain equipment, significantly decreasing the risk of injuries such as crushed fingers or hands, amputations, burns, or blindness.
Hazard signage provides workers with continual safety reminders that will make them more cognizant of their actions and, thus, less likely to be in or cause an accident.
Training and Safety Teams
Companies should set an agenda about facility safety to ensure that they implement and train employees in best practices in an effective and timely manner. Training should be extensive, and employees should participate in regular refreshers.
To supplement training, businesses also should foster a culture of safety. No one, whether they're an employee or an executive, should walk by a safety hazard without addressing it, and everyone should constantly be looking for hazards as they go about their day.
Additionally, it's advisable for organizations to establish on-site safety teams that can continually enforce and reevaluate facility safety guidelines. For larger companies, hiring a safety staff, comprised of a manager and team, is a great way to provide oversight and gain insight into how best practices can improve. For smaller companies, appointing employees to a safety committee is a more feasible but still very effective option.
Make Sure Not to Overlook . . .
One of the easiest mistakes that companies can make when it comes to facility safety management is assuming their work is done after the best practices are put in place. The key next step is inviting third-party experts to come in and conduct a risk-free audit. Businesses will then be able to gauge not only how effective the safety practices are, but also how well they are being enforced and followed.
It's important to note that auditing should not be a one-and-done process, even if companies pass with no violations. Audits should be ongoing and routine, and companies should continually reassess their safety practices based on the findings of each audit. Both safety issues and corrective actions should be documented.
Another often overlooked aspect of facility safety is that there are so many reasons why injuries can occur. While unattended tools/blades and inadequate eye/skin protection may seem like obvious hazards and therefore the easiest to avoid, they are actually leading causes of injuries every year. Trips, falls, cuts, and UV or chemical exposure also remain incredibly common.
Workplace violence is also a frequent cause of injuries. Disputes and aggressive behavior should always be addressed and defused immediately; and if behavior doesn't improve or is particularly egregious, dismissal should be considered.
Last, but certainly not least, there are three critical policies companies should put in place to protect workers: sign in/sign out, mandatory drug testing, and a mandatory dress code (e.g., safety shoes, no jewelry, and long hair secured). In addition to being useful in internal recordkeeping, sign in/sign out is especially important in the event of an emergency evacuation. First responders need to be able to ensure that all employees have exited the facility.
As for the latter two policies, companies should keep in mind that by enforcing drug testing and a dress code, they’re not make a social statement—they're making a safety statement. When it comes to making sure everyone goes home at the end of the day, failing to adhere to either policy is not to anyone's benefit.
The Importance of Senior Management Buy-in
One of the most critical aspects of establishing facility safety is keeping senior management continually involved. As the leaders of their companies, executives should be both held accountable for and recognized for being engaged and ensuring workplace safety.
To that end, it is important for companies to designate an executive who will work directly with the facility safety team, bridging the gap between corporate and operations. Additionally, all executives should sign off on all safety programs and on the safety readiness of their facilities. In addition to employee safety, senior management should prioritize employee equity and can keep employees engaged in safety by establishing an employee bill of rights.
Awards and Recognition
When companies highlight their safety standards, they will not only attract employees and stand out from their competitors, they also will gain name recognition by winning safety awards.
It's important to note that promotion should not stop once an award is won. Companies should continue to promote their safety standards and reference the award as further proof of how unique, well-regarded, and effective their standards are. Continual promotion is especially important for the simple reason that winning awards helps companies win more awards.
In addition to gaining industry recognition, companies should assess and celebrate their employees, not only to keep morale high, but also to ensure that employees are being fully utilized. Well-performing employees should be promoted and given more responsibility.
Hit the Ground Running Today
Establishing facility safety best practices should be a comprehensive, ongoing, and collaborative process, but it doesn't have to be an overwhelming one. For further information, companies should consult OSHA, which spells out rules and regulations that span across regions and industries. Trade associations also have a wealth of information on their websites and safety blogs.
By investing in hazard signage, creating safety teams, reevaluating facility safety, and continually training workers, companies can ensure their manufacturing facilities are world-class in terms of safety. Though it takes time, attention, and work, maintaining a safe facility is a small price to pay to ensure that employees make it home each night.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.