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According to recent results from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), fatal injuries in the workplace have declined by nearly 25% over the past decade. Employer-reported (non-fatal) workplace injuries and illnesses have also declined in recent years, resulting in an incidence rate of 3.4 cases per 100 equivalent full-time workers in 2012, as compared to 3.5 in 2011.

While these statistics may represent employers becoming increasingly focused on safety in the workplace, they also reinforce that workplace safety should be made a priority. This is an issue of particular concern in industries such as manufacturing, which has a statistically higher percentage of workplace-related injuries and illnesses. (Additional BLS research shows occupations such as laborers and freight and stock and material movers have a higher incidence rate of injury/illness than the average 375 cases per 10,000 full-time workers.)

Warehouse safety is too frequently viewed from a managerial perspective (i.e., what do managers and supervisors need to do to comply with OSHA standards and prepare themselves for workplace inspections?). But it’s just as important for employees to understand why it’s critical to obey safety rules and regulations.

The following is a list of 5 steps facilities can take to reinforce the importance of safety with warehouse staff:

1)     Build Safety into Manufacturing DNA

safety in the warehousePerhaps the best way to emphasize the importance of safety is to integrate it into company culture. Establishing a company culture of safety should encourage workers to report unsafe conditions (for example, people working too closely to conveyors with unrestrained hair or clothes) so that they can be dealt with in a way that helps make equipment and procedures safer for everyone.

As noted in a recent Cerasis blog on manufacturing safety, doing so requires 24/7/365 focus and employee and managerial participation. When Paul O’Neil, CEO of Alcoa, made a commitment to employee safety, he “let his staff know that his goal was to improve the employees’ quality of life and ensure they reach[ed] home safely at the end of the day.”  By reinforcing safety from the top down, O’Neil demonstrated to employees that they needed to do the same.

2)     Make Safety Training a Priority

A big part of building manufacturing safety into company DNA involves training employees on safety precautions and protocols. Regular, frequent updates and refresher courses should be included in a training program and preventing unsafe acts should be a part of the company culture. In addition to employees, visitors should also be informed of safe behavior standards if they are going to be near conveyors, forklifts, or other dangerous machinery.

During an interview at supply chain expo Modex, Hytrol’s Boyce Bonham, Director of Integrated Systems, and J. Mitch Johnson, Director of Systems Development, told us that safety training is increasingly becoming an area of focus for manufacturers. “We know companies are getting a lot more engaged in training programs focused on safety and doing regular safety training,” they said. “They’re also getting more focused on the type of equipment that’s going into a facility, including the safety of it.”

3)     Integrate Safety Training & Safety Automation

While training is the foundation of all good safety programs—training and retraining not only reminds employees how to be safe, it also reminds them why to be safe—training programs can (and should) be augmented by safety automation. Safety automation comes in two forms: safety systems (e.g., motion sensors, safety gates, guard rails, etc.) and automation technology that makes workers safer by removing them from some of the most dangerous tasks (e.g., robotics, carousels, palletizers, sortation systems, etc.).

When integrated into a well-planned safety training and safety process, automation can be a valuable asset because it reduces the need for workers to be in high-risk areas. The advantage is two-fold: 1) Workers can be redeployed to areas where they can be more productive and efficient, and 2) The importance of safety can be reinforced to workers.

4)     Keep Employees Involved In and Informed About Safety

By law, employers are responsible for keeping employees informed about OSHA regulations, as well as the various safety and health matters with which they are involved. This means, according to OSHA, employers must post occupational safety and health program information in prominent workplace locations.

Another way to keep employees informed about their safety is to establish safety and inspection committees. Doing so can be beneficial to both employees and management alike because it helps to uncover issues that may exist in the facility, as well as areas where people could be injured. Safety committees can frequently and comprehensively advise, evaluate, and investigate a facility’s material handling processes. The key for management is to get involved and ensure the committees meet, stay on-focus, and set standards.

5)     Encourage Employees to Pay Attention to Their Surroundings

Of the many things manufacturing employees can do to ensure they stay safe at work and return home every night, one of the most important is simply to pay attention to their surroundings. A fall protection blog (highlighted in a recent Manufacturing Leadership Community LinkedIn discussion) advises that employees take the following simple precautions to stay smart (and safe) in the warehouse:

  • Scan immediate surroundings (above, below, in front of, on either side of, and behind) to identify potential hazards
  • Always wear PPE (goggles, earplugs, gloves, hard hat, steel toed boots, etc.)
  • Pay attention to surroundings and encourage others to do the same
  • Report near misses (as well as those who cause them) to management
  • Tie off any place where it’s required, even if it seems unnecessary

Final Thoughts

Safety rules and regulations exist for one very simple reason: To protect employees from workplace hazards (to the extent possible) and allow them to be as healthy, safe, and productive as possible. The 5 points referenced above are by no means an exhaustive list of all of the ways managers can help employees make safety a priority, but they’re a good place to start.

How is your organization emphasizing the importance of safety to employees?  What best practices would you add to our list?

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