Heads-up: Safety and liability in manufacturing
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Innovation in manufacturing has made for surprisingly even footing among rivals in a variety of industries. The last remaining point of competition for market share, some argue, is found in speed and efficiency: even if two companies are making the same products, the business that gets the products made and shipped more quickly is the ostensible winner in the battle for consumer wallets.
That intense focus on speed and volume, however, can come at a high cost for companies that don't tread carefully.
Safety violations and accidents do more than hold up production, they impact brand perception — a negative impact that continues on long after the proverbial assembly line gets back to business.
Across the industry, companies are finding out the hard way that cutting corners on worker safety means cutting off part of their bottom line, be it through liability payouts or flagging sales from a reluctant public.
The Usual Warehouse Suspects
In a report created from data on the top 10 OSHA warehouse violation types, some common threads emerge. There are two categories under which all 10 issues fall: employer accountability and employee responsibility.
In short, issues arise when employers fail to provide the necessary signage, enforce safety procedures, or strategically locate equipment that could avert disasters, such as fire extinguishers.
On the employee side of the equation, workers shouldered blame by failing to recognize and respect warning signs like lockout/tag-out labeling for faulty equipment or failing to communicate hazards quickly, clearly, and consistently as they appeared in the workplace.
While workers tend to put the onus on employers to ensure safety, and vice versa, the truth of the matter is that it absolutely needs to be a team effort, every day.
The Right Ethical and Financial Move
Companies should protect workers because it’s the right thing to do, but good safety practices in manufacturing have other benefits as well. The financial costs of implementing an unsafe workflow or failing to correct faulty behaviors can be very steep — even in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, as the recent ArtiFlex worker safety suit in Ohio demonstrates.
Even if an accident isn't severe or fatal, it still comes with a price tag, as well as a troubling reputation throughout the industry. Remember, an injured employee will need to be replaced, and if your company has a reputation for failing to safeguard their staff, that might end up feeling like an uphill battle as candidates nervously back out.
Murphy's Law of Hardhats
No matter how stable, secure, or state-of-the-art your equipment may be, if it needs a human component to operate, there's a chance of something going wrong. Even if your guards, procedures, and protection equipment have never averted a known issue, it simply means they’ve done their job.
While protective gear for workers and machines can be expensive, it's considerably less costly to obtain and maintain cutting-edge — no pun intended — protection than it is to have to remedy a tragic situation.
In short, if you think you have your bases covered in the warehouse, get a second opinion: more often than not, there are still a few areas, likely rife with moving parts, that could use some extra attention.
While it seems harsh in the short term, adopt a zero-tolerance policy for slacking off when it comes to personal protective equipment — if your employees are caught not following safety procedures, give them a write up and send them home. Consistency in penalties will ensure that, however reluctantly, your team members will protect themselves while pursuing optimal efficiency.
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