How to manage plant safety in a production boom

While an increase in production orders is good news for the business, plant floor personnel may see it differently.

The challenges that go along with increased production or a major controls upgrade can put immense pressure on manufacturing managers and their teams. It can disturb regular processes, place extra demand on staff and uncover skills shortages. As such, the risk of injury is especially high during these periods. Although maintaining a production schedule is a primary concern, extra care should be taken to ensure the safety of workers at this time.

 

Injuries sustained at work can be incredibly damaging, and not just for the injured individual. Your company can incur losses via lowered productivity, equipment and staff replacement costs, first aid supplies, emergency and hospital costs, plus investigation and potential compensation costs.

 

Prevention and preparation is the best approach to plant safety but it can be hard to plan for unexpected change. To help, we’ve collated some immediate and longer-term actions that will help you secure plant-wide safety during challenging times.

 

  • 1. Secure plant safety during order spikes

A spike in customer orders can place stress on current staff and systems, especially if the company operates on a work-to-order basis and doesn’t have on-hand resources required to scale up operations. A plant with increased production demand will need more staff, have more products flowing through the line and more machines in use.

 

To keep up with demand, we frequently see two key safety risks occur:

  1. Regular staff are required to do overtime or work extra shifts and are asked to perform more tasks than usual. For example, a skills shortage in qualified machinists may mean that a manufacturer has just one machinist to operate four metal presses on shift – a task that should be shared with at least one other worker. This increases changeover time and reduces the total production output, but also poses a considerable safety risk.

  2. Temporary workers are sourced and are required to learn and perform unfamiliar tasks within a short space of time.

In this kind of situation, you can counter the risk of injury by employing the following measures.

 

  • Closely monitor and support staff whose jobs are physically demanding or repetitive, or who’ll have increased job responsibilities during the busy time.

    Make safety top of mind for staff through daily reminders, increased safety messages on machinery and message boards. Raytheon drove this message home to its employees by having employees wear a badge that read, “There is no task so important that you cannot take the time to do it safely”. On the back of the badge was a place to insert a photo of their family with the words “This is why I work safe”.

  • Set targets and rewards for safe practice. Kimberly-Clark’s zero injury goal and safety campaign resulted in a seven percent reduction in reportable injuries.

  • Be proactive in quiet times and make hiring of skilled staff a priority. Provide staff with automation training for key systems or across multiple basic production roles so you can temporarily reallocate them from other areas to meet production needs and give other staff adequate off time. This will also ensure they are somewhat familiar with equipment and processes, rather than coming in with no prior knowledge.

  • Have the right training documentation in place before the need arises so your on-boarding process is faster.


Fast action: Increase safety messaging in busy periods through verbal reminders, signage and setting targets and rewards for safe practice. Spend the time training temporary staff thoroughly.

Thinking ahead: Having a diversely trained workforce can help reduce risk of safety incidents.  Responsibility or job rotation, a safety-orientated approach to job design, and training in different roles can prevent repetitive strain injuries and cover skills shortages in busy times.

  • 2. Secure safety during changes in production processes, equipment and staff

"Time pressures and the view that some risks are unavoidable may be barriers to work health and safety [in manufacturing]." Work Health and Safety Perceptions: Manufacturing Industry Report, Safe Work Australia

 

A change in control and automation processes, such as a new packaging line, can pose serious challenges for food and beverage manufacturers. While upgrades are designed to help businesses expand into new markets, or be more operationally efficient, unrealistic timeframes can create the following conditions:

The rush of staff through inductions for new lines, meaning under trained staff, more machines in operation, and new processes that are unfamiliar and unrefined. 

Sourcing of temporary staff to increase resources on the new line, meaning more staff who are unfamiliar with equipment.


While not ideal, the reality is that these situations frequently arise. Here are some ways you can minimise your exposure to injury in just such circumstances:

 

  • Ensure signage and documentation is up-to-date for old equipment and installed for new equipment. If a new step has been added to a process, ensure staff are reminded of the change verbally, and in signage or a manual.  
  • Be prepared for unforeseen injuries. Think about emergency response plans, for example what if a machinist is injured, how will their injury be tended to quickly whilst also ensuring production isn't stalled? 

  • Monitor people performing any new processes as injuries are most likely to occur when workers are performing new tasks. Alternatively, ask a trained team leader to monitor staff for you.

  • Ask for staff feedback to improve the process. For example, a new type of adhesive the company is trailing may give off a more toxic smell when applied. Employees should be able to feed this back to management, so management can provide protective equipment.

Fast action: Use staff as instant feedback loop whenever introducing a new process, product or equipment into production. They’ll be able to identify safety and logical issues quickly. Get a responsible person or team leader to monitor staff who’re performing new tasks.


Thinking ahead: Ensure signage and equipment documentation is up-to-date at all times. Plan for incident responses and have contingencies in place for how to keep operations running. This might involve providing machinery, production and automation training for selected staff on different roles, and ensuring spare parts are available for high equipment criticality ratings.

 

  • 3. Ensure safety basics are applied in all high pressure conditions

With increased pressure to perform, basic safety measures like wearing gloves, can be easily forgotten. Safe Work Australia reports that, The most common self-reported exposures in the industry were exposure to airborne hazards, noise and vibration.” And these are best mitigated through use of protective clothing and equipment.

 

While each facility will experience different kinds of safety hazards, there are some common basic safety, electrical and automation precautions to watch for. Staff should always:

 

  • Check isolation. Check for multiple power supplies and ensure they’re all disconnected when doing maintenance or fault finding.

  • Be careful around charge capacitors. Staff should know how long to wait to ensure any capacitors are discharged prior to working on them. Once power is disconnected, the capacitor holds a charge that can discharge more energy than a powerful battery, which can be extremely dangerous.

  • Check for the integrity of machine guarding.

  • Test and tag electrical assets. Encourage staff to report tags that aren’t up-to-date.

  • Ensure no safety systems have been compromised if a system fails.

  • Wear protective clothing and equipment. Managers should lead by example and wear it at all times.

 

Fast action: Make it known to staff that safety comes before production targets. Wear appropriate safety clothing. Check integrity of machine guarding, remind staff to check isolation and be careful around charge capacitors.

Thinking ahead: Make sure procedures are up-to-date and safety messages are well signed and understood prior to the event of increased workload or a major piece of equipment upgrade. Ensure they involve basic safety checks around electrical and control systems.  

 

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  • 4. Ensure plant safety beyond the shop floor

Safety extends beyond the shop floor. Warehousing and supply chain activities must also be considered during busy times, when there are more deliveries and pickups, loading and unloading of goods, and people walking among machinery,  loading zones and warehouses. This boost in activity increases the risk of injury to anyone walking throughout the facility.  

 

To mitigate the risk of injury, you can:

  • Limit movement in performing tasks. Ensure any new production areas or processes are equipped with tools and equipment required for each job so employees don’t have to leave their stations. Limiting movement on the shop floor will decrease risk of collisions or people being in hazardous zones.

  • Eliminate waste. Even if production is already in full swing, get everyone to clean their workstations and remove unused items and rubbish that can obstruct safe work practices.

  • Prepare: Practices such as parts standardisation and 5S will ensure staff are familiar with equipment and know where to find it every time.

  • Temporarily instate high visibility vests for all staff who need to access high risk areas.

Fast action: Clean workstations and equip them with the right tools to eliminate movement.

Thinking ahead: Implement lean 5S practices and a parts standardisation regime.

 

Grow a strong safety culture for future demands

Whether you are going through change, demand spikes or regular production periods, managers have a huge amount of control over their organisation's safety culture. Building a positive safety culture will result in employees acting independently to protect themselves and others in all situations.

 

Regular, incremental actions can embed a positive safety attitude in your organisation’s culture. Such initiatives might include the following.

 

  • Don't berate, instead, explain why actions are unsafe and what could go wrong using real-world examples.

  • Make it known safety is everyone's responsibility, not just the company’s. Empower them to be responsible for self and others in team.

  • Listen to employees. Discuss where problems exist and come up with alternative solutions. Be on their side.

  • Lead by example. Demonstrate the importance of safety through your actions.

  • Check skills of new workers, mentor and demonstrate, watch them perform task so you can be sure they have a full understanding of how the machine or equipment operates and can handle any safety issue that may arise in future. Alternatively train up team leaders to perform this function.

  • Provide an open, easy-to-use documentation channel for incident reporting. Be fair not over-zealous. This will help you build rapport with all staff.

Summary

Management and staff should always be identifying health and safety risks, discussing health and safety concerns, and removing hazards where possible.

Remember, safety is not a ‘set and forget’ function. It needs to be consistently discussed in order for the company to remain compliant and its people to be safe.

 

Learn more about our work with Coopers
 

SAGE Automation delivers agile, scalable and secure automation training solutions that don’t just solve current problems, they pre-empt and deter future ones, helping your organisation thrive. With years of experience working in defence, infrastructure, resources, utilities and manufacturing, SAGE has unmatched expertise standing by to upskill you or your team.

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