Knowledge is cumulative. Unfortunately, I have had to investigate many injuries over the years. Some were light and others severe. I have personally wrapped many bloody wounds and cared for people in shock until the ambulance arrived.
Thankfully, I have not had to investigate a death, but I have been privy to the details of many industrial fatalities.
Using these experiences in conjunction with various proprietary safety programs, I have trained many manufacturing workers. I obviously can’t cover all areas of safety theory, equipment or regulations in detail here, but I would like to share some impressions.
First, proper hiring practices are critical. You are introducing a foreign body into your environment that can be a danger to themselves or others. Novices represent the highest proportion of injuries. You either need to hire people that are familiar with a manufacturing environment or accept the responsibility and expense of orientating a novice properly.
Thoroughly evaluate competency and never assume that people’s abilities match their credentials. I have known many “trained” machinists that didn’t clamp a work piece in the mill vice tight enough, sending parts across the room like projectiles.
Production is motion — people and equipment either moving, cutting, spinning, lifting, pushing or pulling. There may be mechanical, electrical, hydraulic or pneumatic equipment with drive motors, and conveyance using belts, chains and sprockets. You may also use fork trucks, cranes or perhaps chemicals. There is a constant din and hazards abound.
Safety is behavioral and knowledge is protection. Whatever the process, you need to teach people to anticipate potential dangers in your specific atmosphere. Create situational awareness and acclimate people to their surroundings. Utilize your own experiences to open their eyes. Teach hourlies and management not to be absorbed by the environment but to step back and observe.
Consider spatial orientation. Establish safety zones in and around the equipment. Go over the physical landscape, objects and distances in between, and have people continually reevaluate activity in relation to their own position. There must be appreciation from all directions. Install mirrors. What do they observe and absorb?
Ever watch an ant farm? I often take people to a position of height so they can look down to see how people navigate the plant and get a feel for the flow. It is useful to see how, why and where people collect in your particular layout.
There are sharp edges, pinch points and trip hazards everywhere. Often, it simply must be learned where to safely stand. Steel toe boots can be awkward; get people to know their feet and establish coordination and rhythm. When walking, don’t stare down, look ahead, up and around. Also know your fingertips and extended arm length.
Don’t be on edge, but be alert. Don’t fear the equipment but fear what will happen if you don’t pay attention to what you are doing. Listen as best you can. Imagine areas where there can be injuries. Watch corners and look for traffic.
Teach the proper use of tools. A wrench is not a hammer, and a screwdriver is not a punch. Twenty years ago you could assume someone had at least changed the oil and brakes on their own car. This is not true today. You wouldn’t believe how the kids handle even simple Allen wrenches nowadays. Busted knuckles and stripped bolts seem more common than ever.
Continually evaluate your equipment. Is it properly guarded? Just because someone hasn’t been hurt in a long time doesn’t mean it can’t happen, and a dull tool can be just as dangerous as a sharp one. If you don’t already require regular properly-documented inspections, do so.
Monitor your people. Take notice of tiredness, especially on the off shifts. Ask yourself, have they worked long hours? Too many weekends? Are they prone to distraction? Is there stress or pressure for production? How is morale? Were they out until 2 am?
Management needs to consider its impact on activity too. Millwrights, machinists, electricians and production workers have different tasks each with their own set of hazards. Know their job, and how and when to engage.
For example, if there are five people involved in replacing a large gear or shaft using lift trucks, hoists and slings don’t just carelessly dive in and add another body to the throng. People can bump into each other, get frustrated, or worse.
Management should inspect, observe and direct, but stay out of the way unless they are actually performing the work. A boss in your face or over your shoulder distracts and this can easily lead to injury. Evaluate and be the calming influence. Tell workers to take a break, collect themselves and come back fresh.
Sometimes you simply need to manipulate the situation. I once worked in a mill where tons of steel were handled with a large magnetic crane. We had problems with people cutting through the yards under or near the crane. It was a cat and mouse game and even written discipline didn’t end the trespassing.
We spread a rumor that during a power outage the crane could drop its load. Certainly there were safeguards in the system but why trust them? It made sense to everybody. We didn’t catch anybody walking through there, especially when it rained.
Threats are not prevention. Many places threaten written punishment for injuries with no appeal. While this may get people’s attention it can also discourage full cooperation. Hourlies may be averse to telling authorities about prior incidents that could have exposed a greater risk. Look for Band-Aids on their digits.
I once knew a young man who was not a novice. He had severely cut his hand by reaching into a conveyor to remove some scrap that had jammed it. He thought he was quicker and did not consider the stored energy that would be released once he removed the scrap.
I was called to the scene. While I was staunching the bleeding his initial concern was not his missing chunk of flesh but the written punishment he knew was coming — a write-up for violating the Lock Out Tag Out procedure. He apologized to me profusely and worried about the severity of his discipline while waiting for the ambulance.
This struck me as just plain wrong. Discipline does have its place, but have people fear the injury, not management. Investigation revealed that others received minor cuts from the same issue but had not reported them out of fear. The shame of it all was the fix only required minor belt adjustment and guarding modifications, and the jams stopped.
Pressure to produce can be a powerful influence and force short cuts. Break through this and reach the people. Numerous meetings covered the details of the injury. I warned them to never rely on reflexes and told them to always stop, lock out the equipment and remove any jam properly as per procedure. I would rather lose product than have them lose a finger.
Your goal is to get them to think. Shock them with visuals if you have to. Post pictures of potential injuries near the equipment and show them the Charlie video.
At the same time develop trust with your people by letting them know their wellbeing is your priority, not the numbers. You need feedback from the people who work in the environment you control. If they fear retribution they will never divulge anything. Enlist them and foster safety comradery. It is everyone’s responsibility to look out for each other.
Manufacturing is inherently dangerous. We work in an environment that can easily cause loss of life or limb. People have been pulled into lathes while polishing shafts, and grinding wheels can explode like bombs, etc.
Remember novices get hurt because they are novices and veterans get hurt because they feel immune. Combat this. Anybody can get hurt at any time. Consider not only the impact on the injured but their families as well. Prevent the visitation of pain and misery on their home.
Offer incentive programs and other perks for cooperation. It is money well spent. Demand the use of job-appropriate safety equipment, and be ruthless in your enforcement of Lock Out Tag Out procedures.
Management is ultimately responsible for the company’s specific safety program, procedures and enforcement. If someone gets hurt you are not doing your job. Above all, keep your people safe.
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