7 Steps to Improving Plant Safety

Sept. 15, 2020
An effective plant safety program includes up-to-date products, educated employees, properly trained and certified officials, and effective labels and signage.

Many manufacturers are given low scores for safety because they have no written safety program in place. Or worse, they have no safety program in place at all. Often, manufacturers without a safety program in place will assign an HR officer to put some type of program in place, to fill the void, but its not likely that person will have the required knowledge or experience to devise and implement such a program.

Lack of a comprehensive safety program can signal to employees that the organization has no concern their interests, which fosters lower morale and promotes higher employee turnover. A better approach is to involve employees in every step of the safety program. Form a safety committee that includes employees, so that the program is not viewed as a “management thing” but an inclusive effort.

Having an expert safety manager is optimal. For business that do not have the resources for that approach, there are outstanding programs available online that provide excellent free and paid content and classes for OSHA 30, first aid, CPR, and more.

When considering an improved safety plan, we recommend as a first step that manufacturers complete an SKU analysis to eliminate redundant and less cost-effective safety products. Does the plant use five types of protective gloves when it only needs two? Is there a better, longer-lasting product that would be more cost-effective versus a cheaper alternative?

To accelerate the process of updating or revamping a safety program, look for an industrial supplier who will partner with expert sources like Kimberly-Clark, 3M, DBI Sala, MCR, PiP, and Meltblown. Those suppliers have experts who can provide detailed assessment and recommendations, with the latest solutions for tackling common issues around hazard identification and hazard prevention, the two most critical components of plant safety. They also can help deliver the required employee education and training.

If you're looking to improve or augment a safety program at your company here are seven critical factors to consider:

1. Hearing and OSHA compliance All noise over 82 decibels requires hearing protection. As some areas will be noisier than others, conduct a noise analysis of the inside of the building using a decibel meter. Simple ear plugs may work at around 82 decibels, but the requirement will change to a combination of earmuffs and earplugs in an area that produces 132 decibels.

Another consideration is attenuated hearing protection, which allows workers to hear each other in face-to-face communication, but will block out ancillary noise from the shop floor. If heavy machinery or heavy products need to be moved, or a crane is operating, it will require a communication system — and a plan — for properly alerting employees on the shop floor.

2. Exposure assessment/respiratory protection — Work areas with exposure levels above the permissible exposure limit (PEL) must have a respiratory program in place. This requires an air-sampling audit which can be performed by an outside vendor. If a respiratory program is required the company then must follow and document adherence to OSHA compliance guidelines, which OSHA will review. If it's not up-to- date, fines and penalties will be issued.

There are multiple types of respirators, such as a dust mask, half-face respirator, full-face respirator, Power Air purifying respirators, and SCBAs, which are commonly used by firemen. A compliance program includes medical evaluation, fit testing, respiratory selection, training, etc.

Find a qualified supplier who can help walk you through the process. Manufacturers can also work with their insurer who can provide an assessment and recommendations.

3. Slings, harness and safety chains Anytime an employee is suspended above ground by four feet or more the general rule is that he/she must be tethered to a tie-off point that meets or exceeds 5,000 lbs. Companies like 3M and DBI Sala offer training on how to properly use, wear and inspect harnesses.

Trending right now are programs that teach new techniques for improved tool safety, such as elimination of body-tethered tool and tool-bag drops, which present their own particular and dangerous safety hazards.

Additionally, Fall Protection Awareness programs will educate employees on proper usage of harnesses, self-retracting lifelines and other equipment.

4. Slips, trips and falls OSHA mandates that employers protect workers from slips, trips and falls. Spill control also is critical, as is making sure aisles are clear of cords and other items. Good housekeeping and common sense rule the day.

5. Confined space awareness This is not just about the size of the space but requires proper harness and fall protection, air analysis, and an escape plan. In the case of a worker becoming unconscious, does the employee have the right harness so a colleague can pull the worker out of a dangerous situation? Is a Sniffer required to analyze air-quality levels at the bottom, middle, and top of the space before someone can enter it? A plan for this is mandated by law.

A good place to start is with a confined-space course, to define all the moving parts. If working with a supplier they should be trained as a qualified safety sales professional program (QSSP).

6. Lockout-tagout (LOTO) — When it comes to locking down machines, turning them off for repair, and then turning them back on after repair. OSHA requires compliance and documentation of three procedures: (1) Energy Control; (2) Inspect and Certify the Date; and (3) Train and Certify the User.

It is important to note that individuals using the lockout tag, product and programs also must be certified!

7. Hazardous chemical and flammable liquid handling and storage Not all businesses have the same exposures and hazards. Thus, all manufacturers must have in place a Proper Use Plan that covers all materials, as well as safety-related products like gloves, goggles, coveralls, and any other personal protective equipment. Brady Corporation offers an excellent GHS program to learn all the intricacies and requirements.

Finally, deploy plant- wide a signage and ID system as the graphic iconography that puts everyone on safety alert, all the time. Manufacturers should assess all their safety signs, from “Eyewash” to “Restricted Space” to “Fire Extinguisher.”

Maintaining excellent plant safety is much easier when the latest solutions are in place, employees are educated, people are properly trained and certified, and all those signs and ID systems are in their right place. If you’re finding it all to be a bit challenging, reach out to a supplier expert for guidance.

John Diaz is the vice president of sales and business development for Stellar Industrial Supply Inc., an ISO/AS9120-certified industrial supplier. Contact him via LinkedIn.

About the Author

John Diaz | Vice president of Sales and Business Development

John Diaz is the vice president of sales and business development for Stellar Industrial Supply Inc., an ISO/AS9120-certified industrial supplier. Contact him via LinkedIn.