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Seven Safety Tips and Best Practices from Manufacturing Experts

Manufacturers’ approach to safety has changed dramatically in the last decade. Today, no injury is acceptable. Here, safety professionals from original equipment manufacturers and industry suppliers share their tips, techniques and best safety practices.

1. Foster an Inclusive Safety Culture

Safe equipment and procedures alone do not create a safe workplace. To create an effective safety culture, every employee must feel safe and empowered to share safety concerns with supervisors. “Schneider Electric’s motto is work safe, watch out for each other,” says Jim Spurlock, staff safety and environmental engineer at the Oxford, Ohio-based company. “If you’re not 100% sure you can complete a job safely, stop work. It’s not enough to keep yourself safe. You need to think and act to prevent hazards for the next person.” Successful safety processes are employee-led and include every employee. “From management to the shop floor, all of our employees are involved in every safety aspect from hazard reporting to corrective actions,” explains Kyle Finley, human resources and environmental health and safety manager for Hunter Douglas in Tupelo, Mississippi. “This approach builds ownership throughout the company.” Rex M. Krohn Jr., manager of global paint at John Deere in Moline, Illinois, agrees, “First and foremost, our safety culture creates alignment across the company.” Manufacturers should stress that employees are protected by OSHA and won’t be reprimanded for,pointing out problems, emphasizes Jon Burk, safety manager at Therma-Tron-X, Inc. (TTX) in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. “Serious incidents can occur when something doesn’t look right, but employees are afraid to tell their supervisors,” he says. “You have to encourage employees to speak up. Strong safety cultures promote lower injury rates and higher employee retention.”

2. Increase Awareness of Safety Hazards and Provide Safety Resources

Every powder coating system is unique, but can potentially involve dust, electrical, compressed air, or pinch point risks. To keep workers safe, manufacturers provide easy access to safety information, training, and personal protection equipment. They post safety procedures and signage highlighting area hazards and emergency contacts. “For us, electrical safety is paramount,” says Spurlock. “We have an eight-hour initial course and four-hour refresher courses on handling electrical hazards. That’s in addition to lockout/tagout procedures, fire and emergency preparedness, and other training.” Extensive training – early and often – usually begins on an employee’s first day and continues throughout the year. “Each John Deere factory has new employee orientations where we lay the groundwork for safety in our operations,” Krohn says, “and ongoing training ensures safety stays on our employees’ minds.” “During orientation, we show how every job floor function is done safely and what personal protective equipment (PPE) is required,” says Finley, who notes that Hunter Douglas uses a Fastenal industrial vending system for PPE. “Employees scan their badge and the machine dispenses safety gloves, glasses and all the PPE needed for the job they’re trained to do.” “Many near misses are related to specific PPE,” says Burk, adding that near miss reports help him identify topics for refresher training. “Also, compressed air training is important to warn people about the maximum safe air pressure (30 psi) and that blowing off skin can cause an air embolism. But our key training is situational awareness. Situational awareness strategies keep employees focused and can eliminate a lot of serious near misses.”

3. Fully Utilize Your Company’s Safety Professionals and Team Members

At least one full-time certified safety professional should direct safety efforts and training and advise departments on facility purchases and improvements. Safety teams and professionals can add value to equipment purchases and process changes. “If equipment is moved, we do an assessment to prevent blind spots or trip hazards and ensure no new safety problems are created,” says Spurlock. “If you’re purchasing equipment, bring a safety person to the vendor. It’s never too early to start thinking about safety.” “We make sure that all of our suppliers’ quotations are in line with our safety and other expectations,” says Krohn. “Safety professionals attend equipment run-offs, and once machinery is brought into the factory, it goes through a red tag process. Red tags aren’t removed, and the equipment is not released into production, until every safety requirement has been met.”

4. Keep Things Clean to Maintain a Safe Working Environment

Sort, straighten, shine, standardize and sustain – 5S requires greater attention to housekeeping and its contribution to safety. “Good housekeeping is a priority,” Burk says. “It prevents a lot of injuries.” “If your area looks like an obstacle course, it’s not safe. Housekeeping is integral to safety,” concurs Spurlock. Schneider Electric personnel clean and vacuum powder coating areas daily and an outside service periodically cleans hard-to-reach areas. The company installed a dust collector to keep dust out of tunnels and emptied into sealed drums for recycling. Hunter Douglas also sought ways to better manage the more than twenty-five different powders it uses. “We reviewed powder coating magazines, studied ANSI standards, and talked with contractors,” says Finley. “Ultimately, we installed a ‘booth within a booth’ system that’s cleaned daily and weekly. The booth is inside a clean room to reduce overspray and buildup on adjacent surfaces. It enhanced our housekeeping and quality control.”

5. Regularly Inspect Facilities and Track Necessary Improvements

“Audits keep safety at the forefront of everyone’s minds,” says Finley. “At least once a month, our safety committee performs a full facility audit. The committee’s safety report goes to team members weekly and is posted on safety boards where employees can find the status of suggestions and hazards within their department.” Hunter Douglas also uses an Intelex safety compliance management system to document near misses, injuries, illnesses and other safety data. “Corrective action is identified for each safety concern, assigned to a responsible party with specific timelines, and tracked to completion.” “Corrective action is a key part of audits,” agrees Burk. “Eliminate the root cause and you’ll create a safer environment overall.” An auditor regularly tours Schneider Electric’s facility, critiquing, grading, and photographing areas of concern. “The audit also reviews the near misses reported, safety ideas submitted and implemented, and comment cards noting good or at-risk safety behavior observed,” says Spurlock. “We’re not just identifying big, obvious hazards. We’re also looking at ergonomic and other considerations.” In addition to routine audits, risk assessments, job safety analysis, and inspections that include checking for dust hazards, proper bonding and grounding, and preventive maintenance, John Deere revisits safety after each annual shutdown. “We retrain all operators to make sure they return to work refreshed on any hazards they might be exposed to, necessary safety precautions, and improvements made over the shutdown,” says Krohn.

6. Communicate Safety News; Engage and Empower Employees

Two-way safety communication, including committees and meetings, gives employees the opportunity to influence workplace safety. Every day at Schneider Electric starts with a ten-minute morning meeting featuring a safety message and stretching exercise. “Supervisors review any accidents at company facilities worldwide, remind employees of safety rules, and share near-miss and local safety reports to inform any employees without email,” Spurlock says. “Safety is the very first thing we talk about at daily meetings,” says Krohn. “Any injury, first aid incident, or unsafe condition is always brought up first.” The company holds monthly safety council meetings thatinvolve factory leadership, operational team leaders, and representatives from each factory area. Bulletin boards alert employees to safety news in-house at TTX. Out in the field, operational work briefings are written on a whiteboard. “Employees pay attention to safety updates that pop up in red,” Burk says. “Quarterly safety meeting information is posted, and all employees are welcome. Safety meetings often highlight concerns before they become problems.” “Our safety committee reviews team member suggestions for the month, what’s been acted on, what’s still open, and ongoing projects,” says Finley. “Rather than penalize employees, we recognize employees for their input and congratulate injury-free departments. The committee celebrates safety milestones.”

7. Network and Make the Most of External Resources

Suppliers, insurance agents, and fire and police professionals also contribute to problem prevention. “We work continuously with suppliers and insurance consultants to determine potential hazards and protection for employees,” says Krohn. “The more eyes from the outside, the better,” adds Finley. “External risk assessments can give you a fresh perspective and keep safety from becoming mundane.” “Insurance companies are a valuable resource. Insurance experts can tour your facility, identify hazards, and make recommendations. It isn’t a recommendation when OSHA comes,” Burk emphasizes. “Also, fire professionals can assess potential fire threats and run extinguisher training. And local police can help prepare for and prevent emergencies.” Fire officials offer useful advice,” Spurlock agrees. “They look closely at powder coating systems and can suggest solutions to avoid combustible dust problems. For example, we installed fire suppression cannons and reduced dust buildup in the rafters. By listening to their horror stories, we can learn from others’ mistakes.” Learning from the safety experiences of other manufacturers sums up the best advice for any company using a powder coating system. -  by Catherine Flynn

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