No one should get hurt in their place of work. However, masses of people do. Government statistics in the UK reveal that 550,000 injuries per year occur in the workplace at a cost of 30,7 million lost working days.
While enormous strides have been made in recent years, manufacturing remains one of the more risky industries in which to ply your trade. The average across all sectors is 1,780 injuries per 100,000 workers; that figure is 2,180 injuries per 100,000 manufacturing employees, with only construction and agriculture, forestry and fishing putting workers at significantly higher risk.
The UK, along with other northern European countries like Sweden, Finland and Germany do pretty well. Even in highly-developed countries like the US, Portugal, France and Romania, the risk of injury is doubled.
A multitude of manufacturing injuries
A factor that makes manufacturing particularly more potentially dangerous than other industries is the sheer variety of ways that workers can get injured. While most people's mind jumps to machinery and equipment, which carry significant risks, bear in mind that many manufacturers deal with high volumes of potentially explosive or hazardous chemicals too. Food and drink manufacturing carries hygiene risks, while all manufacturing companies are also in the business of moving, storing and transporting huge amounts of products – other risky endeavors.
In Australia, for example, 19% of manufacturing injuries are muscular based on heavy lifting; 17% of injuries are also muscular but due more to repetitive handling of products rather than their sheer weight; while more than 40% of injuries are acquired through merely handling food or metal products or materials. The vast majority of workplace fatalities come from either vehicle incidents or being struck by falling objects.
Not all manufacturing employees are at equal risk, of course. In the US, iron and steelwork is amongst the 10 most dangerous jobs you can have – up there with being a logger, roofer or a flight engineer – with no other manufacturing appearing in the top 20.
Reducing health and safety risks
Fortunately, manufacturers have a lot of resources, assistance and guidance in creating better, safer environments for their employees. Rules and regulations from bodies such as Occupational Health Standards (OSHA) and Health & Safety Executive (HSE) provide frameworks for manufacturers to adhere to and accreditation for those who do. Ultimately, however, manufacturers can create minimal-risk workplaces, but the risk and fault for incidents often lie with workers themselves (and not always the ones who end up getting injured). There are a number of ways that manufacturers can reduce human risk too.
Thorough pre and onboarding
An incredible 28% of all workplace injuries occur during an employee's first year on the job, suggesting that inexperience, lack of skills and lack of awareness play a large role in health and safety incidents. Yet, Toronto-based Institute for Work & Health discovered that only around 20% of new Canadian employees get any health and safety training at all during their first 12 months.
Excellent preboarding and onboarding is not only about telling new starters what not to do and how to lift things properly. Manufacturers should also use this opportunity to explain to new-hires about the company vision, purpose and culture and especially to highlight how health and safety are essential parts of those values.
Make training interesting
Introducing a robust onboarding program and making health and safety training mandatory are good first steps but they're also an exercise in box-ticking. If you're honest with yourself, when was the last time you left a health and safety training feeling motivated, or feeling anything at all other than bored? How many minutes was it til you'd forgotten every word you'd been told?
That doesn't mean that you should hire circus performers or stand-up comedians to deliver health and safety training (tho we would love to see that too!), but investigate the ways your employees like to learn. Providing a self-learn or micro-learning platform with a short video or gamified lessons that can be done in a few minutes during a lunch break, for example, is shown to be incredibly impactful, with as much as 90% retention of all information.
Continuous training wins
The other bonus of microlearning over more traditional workplace health and safety training is that it can be delivered consistently and continuously over a longer time, keeping the subject top of mind for employees and allowing manufacturers to update information regularly, as rules, regulations or processes alter.
Training should focus on two areas: skills-based training to ensure employees know how to carry out their tasks safely and efficiently; and awareness-based training, so they can identify and avoid potential risks in the wider workplace.
Access to information
If one of your employees needs some quick additional training for a piece of machinery, or wants to check the best-practice for a specific process, how quickly do you think they would be able to find and access the relevant information?
Whether you choose an intranet, an online folder, an enterprise social network (ESN) or a traditional physical library of documents (not the most employee-friendly or real-time option in this day and age), make sure your employees can get the information they need when they need it.
Create a culture of sharing
The beauty of having an accessible, mobile-first employee platform such as an intranet or an ESN is that employees can communicate easily with each other and information shared by colleagues is typically valued and assimilated more successfully than information passed down from senior managers.
If you have an ESN, encourage your safety officer to share the top findings from a recent conference she attended, be transparent and share the results of your recent inspections so employees can see where they need to improve, or create a group where managers from multiple sites can discuss risks they've recently identified and crowdsource ideas for solving them or showcase their solutions.
Health and safety issues are unpleasant, dangerous and sometimes worse, so there's a temptation to try to sweep them under the corporate carpet but the manufacturers who genuinely lead the way in this space have cultures of total transparency that result in trust and not nightmares. Do the same and you just might start sleeping better at night!