The Balancing Act: 3 Strategies to Simultaneously Achieve Safety and Productivity Goals

In the manufacturing industry, we constantly hear about operating with a safety-first mentality, but are employers really doing everything they can to put meaning behind that principle?

The results of a recent survey from manufacturing media resource Automation World point to no. Respondents admitted two reasons why safety guidelines are not always followed: they don’t want to disrupt production and the procedures are inconvenient.

One survey respondent summed this up by stating, “getting the job done often clouds the decision-making process.”

In fact, OSHA reported that the manufacturing industry had the highest proportion of accidents across all industries in 2015. In that year, 57 percent of amputations and 26 percent of hospitalizations resulting from workplace incidents involved manufacturing workers.

Instead of prioritizing productivity over safety, the two should be viewed as goals that can be achieved simultaneously. For instance, a Fortune 100 company increased productivity 13 percent after implementing an effective safety and health management system and a small 50-person manufacturing plant reduced faulty product and saved more than $265,000 as the result of a strong safety program.

So, how can you implement an effective safety program workers will want to follow and that won’t hinder production? Check out these three strategies.

Stress Safety in Trainings

It may seem like the most obvious solution, but 74 percent of the professionals in Automation World’s survey chose training as the most important component when building a solid safety culture. This ranked higher than other possible solutions such as leadership buy-in, enforcing accountability and offering rewards.

An effective safety program makes safety a priority from day one. Incorporating safety topics into new hire orientation tells the employee that safety is an important aspect of your company culture and proves your commitment to keep workers safe. This training session should include site-specific scenarios like hazard information, safe lifting practices, emergency action plans and other common procedures.

The initial safety session is also an important element of developing a strong onboarding process to fight the skills gap.

But safety trainings shouldn’t end after the first days of employment. A thorough safety program includes ongoing training and safety meetings.

One way to do this is to include a daily safety topic in pre-shift meetings or rallies. You’re likely already beginning shifts with a quick meeting to inform your workers about the plans and goals for the day, and safety should always be a part of that. You can discuss topics like machine-specific safety, current working conditions or incident reporting procedures to reinforce expectations. These meetings make safety a daily dialogue.

To further enforce a company-wide safety culture at all levels, your program should also include training for operational leaders and supervisors. In additional to routine safety meetings, your company can setup an online learning center that provides these employees with up-to-date training courses. These courses ensure leadership is current and consistent with the way they are leading their teams. It also sets the example that regarding safety as a high priority is key for advancement within your organization.

Reward Open Communication

A 2009 report from The National Employment Law Project found that 43 percent of low-wage workers surveyed in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago experienced illegal retaliation from their employer after filing a safety-related complaint. The fear of retaliation silences employees and discourages them from reporting hazards and injuries.

As a response, OSHA passed a regulation in 2016 that prohibits employers from discouraging workers from reporting injuries or engaging in activity protected under the 22 whistleblower laws enforced by OSHA. It also requires employers to inform their employees of their right to report incidents.

Here are OSHA’s recommended practices to implement an anti-retaliation program >

It’s important for employees to know they can communicate safety risks and incidents to management without repercussions. If not, operational leaders are left in the dark while their workforce is putting themselves at risk. This is especially important when you consider that lost productivity from injuries and illnesses costs companies an estimated $60 billion every year.

Having a leadership team on the production floor at all times is a great way to proactively identify potential risk factors or correct behavior in real time. Additionally, the frequent presence and interaction between these leaders and production workers can help the workers feel more comfortable reporting safety risks that they notice.

You can even take this a step further by offering rewards for proactive identification of safety hazards. Many manufacturers already offer productivity incentives but, if you’re only rewarding workers based on production performance and not for following safety guidelines, then you’re sending a message that productivity is more important.

OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program guidelines recommend incentive programs that are “innovative, positive, and promote safety awareness and employee participation in safety-related activities.” The organization disapproves of rewards based only on injury and illness numbers because this often discourages workers from reporting injuries.

To adhere to OSHA’s recommendation, operational leaders can implement a point system that incentivizes reporting instead of rewarding workers for avoiding injuries. Points can be given to employees for reporting injuries, identifying risks or making a safety suggestion. Rewards like longer lunch breaks or bonuses can be offered after earning a specific amount of points.

Take Advantage of Digital Tools  

You can also improve safety and productivity through technology, like by upgrading old machinery or utilizing digital record-keeping tools that track key safety metrics across all of your locations.

Obsolete machinery not only presents a safety risk but also results in productivity loss. Although warehouse technology has advanced significantly in recent years, global financial services company Morgan Stanley recently discovered that most of the industrial machinery in use is at least 10 years old.

Outdated equipment leads to unplanned productivity loss because most of these machines require frequent mechanical work and maintenance. It also puts your workforce in danger. Machinery and maintenance activities account for nearly 30 percent of workplace deaths and injuries.

Connected technology, which is increasingly becoming more accessible, provides predictive maintenance and sends alerts when a machine requires maintenance. This eliminates the need to perform routine maintenance, which halts productivity and results in costly downtime. It’s estimated that predictive maintenance will reduce maintenance costs by up to 40 percent, or a total savings of at least $240 billion, by 2025.

Because connected machinery alerts you when something is malfunctioning, it reduces the chances of your workers being injured. Your onsite leadership team can be notified of the issue and relay these conditions during pre-shift meetings.

In addition to connected technology, digital tools to track key safety metrics are also helpful in reducing risks. One example of this is a safety scorecard.

To utilize a safety scorecard, safety managers input metrics into a digital table that uses formulas to populate things like worker safety ratio and total recordable incident rate. These numbers can also be utilized for more comprehensive reporting by aggregating results across each facility and calculating averages to compare against company-wide safety goals.

The recorded information provides you with a snapshot of safety incidents across all of your facilities so you can easily compare the results with OSHA standards and your company’s historical data. This allows you to identify trends and reoccurring violations across the company so you can tailor your safety program to address these issues.

Merging Safety with Productivity

Safety shouldn’t be an afterthought and it also doesn’t have to be associated with productivity loss. Proper and continuous safety training at all levels within your warehouse operation can reduce costly and dangerous mistakes and ensure everyone understands expectations. A leadership team on the floor can also facilitate safety-related dialogue by identifying and resolving potential risks before they lead to injuries and lower productivity levels. Additionally, you can leverage technology, like predictive maintenance or record-keeping tools, to reduce inefficiencies and improve your company’s safety culture.

Improving workplace safety doesn’t have to be costly nor does it mean sacrificing productivity. Instead, safety and productivity can be achieved together.

How are you recording safety metrics to identify areas of improvement? To better manage your workplace’s safety and minimize risk, download our safety scorecard template >

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