In 2019/20, 15 workers died, 66,000 non-fatal injuries were reported and 85,000 workers suffered from a work-related illness in the manufacturing sector. In the vast majority of cases, these accidents were completely avoidable. Yet many business owners remain unaware of the small, effective ways in which they could improve safety standards and reduce business risk. And in the manufacturing sector, health and safety compliance has never been more important.

The manufacturing sector remains one of the most heavily enforced industries, subject to regular HSE inspection due to it’s ‘high-risk’ status.  Alongside the ever-present risk of on-the-spot fines in the form of an FFI, health and safety infractions now carry the risk of heavy fines. Since the introduction of the sentencing guidelines in 2016, much harsher penalties are being imposed on businesses, with offending businesses now much more likely to face substantial fines based upon turnover, imprisonment of an individual, or the insolvency of a business. Unsurprisingly, manufacturers have been one of the worst-hit sectors for these high court fines and FFI’s.

  1. Machinery Safety – guarding and more

Machinery is arguably the biggest area of risk for all manufacturers. Moving parts of machinery should always be adequately guarded to prevent injury from crushing, shearing, entanglement, impact or ejection. The age of machinery is no defence – just because an old machine was not fitted with a guard originally it doesn’t necessarily mean one isn’t required now.

Guarding varies from fixed guards, moveable interlocked guards through to modern safety devices such as laser and light sensors, trip wires or pressure pads to shut off moving parts if operators enter the ‘danger zone’.

However, simply fitting a guard is only part of the picture. How staff operate the machine routinely and during non-routine tasks like removing blockages, changing blades, cleaning or maintenance must also be considered. Staff bypassing guarding for these non routine tasks is a common cause of injury. Whenever this access is required, employees should use a permit to work – isolate the power to machines with a ‘lock off procedure’. Where maintenance work can only be carried out with the power on, consider the use of hold-to-run controls and limited speed operation. Developing a positive attitude to safety and positive safety culture within a business led from the top down is key to ensuring staff aren’t tempted to cut corners and inappropriately remove machinery guarding.  

Operators should also complete daily machine pre-use checks to ensure all controls and safety measures (e.g. emergency stops) are fully operational. Finally, employees need to be trained so that they can operate machinery safely. Often overlooked is the need for training in cleaning, adjustment maintenance and blockage removal in addition to the obvious training in routine safe use of the machine.

  1. Noise Control – can you hear me?

Machine operation and noise goes hand in hand. Machinery noise is an occupational health risk that can cause permanent hearing damage and tinnitus (a constant ringing in the ears).

Noise levels and the duration of exposure contribute to hearing damage but there are many practical, cost effective measures to prevent this, including machinery noise reduction measures, adequate hearing protection and health surveillance.  If you find it necessary to raise your voice whilst talking to someone 1 metre away, to be heard over the machinery noise in your business, that is a good indicator a noise risk assessment (using specialist noise monitoring equipment) will be required. Southalls can undertake this for you, following up with a report and the advice you need to reduce the risk occupational hearing loss.

  1. Manual handling – lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling

Many manufacturing jobs still operate using traditional methods involving production lines and manual handling of goods. Manual handling injuries account for nearly one quarter of all reported injuries at work, so it is critical that all relevant members of staff are trained and compliant with proper handling practice. If your company is involved with daily materials handling, you should speak with your workers about the best approach to lifting and handling. This will help them to feel involved in the process, as well as reinforcing good manual lifting practice.

  1. COSHH – identify, assess and control

With the HSE focus over the last few years focussing more on preventing incidences of occupational lung disease it is no surprise that visits are targeting COSHH assessments more and more. Whilst many businesses have COSHH assessments in place for products they purchase, they do not readily review these and often miss out on assessing the hazards posed from processed fumes and dusts released from manufacturing processes. 

It is recommended you regularly undertake COSHH assessment reviews, COSHH cabinets often contain hazardous substances which have not been used for years and sometimes they are stored in unlabeled containers. If you have not done so recently then it is recommended you undertake a COSHH inventory to identify what you actually still need. Check the activities you undertake to ensure you have identified any hazardous substances released as part of your manufacturing processes, common hazards include welding fume and metal working fluids, ensure you implement adequate controls to prevent your employees being exposed to hazardous substances.

The hierarchy of control reminds us that to ensure the safety of your employees you should eliminate hazardous substances wherever possible. Consider disposing of substances you no longer need, hazardous substances should be substituted for less hazardous alternatives. Any products left should be controlled using engineering controls and only as a last resort PPE.