Manufacturing Operations: 5 Effective Strategies to Keep the Production Line Moving

Learn about the leading causes of losses, loss prevention techniques, and the biggest challenges for employers.

Workers’ Compensation accidents, injuries, and near misses can have a dramatic impact on manufacturing operational efficiencies and the bottom line. Additionally, frequent injuries can lower employees' morale and quality of life. A strong loss prevention program at your manufacturing facility will benefit employees and the company, and there are various steps you can take to keep the production line moving.

Construction hats and workers

In this article, we will examine the leading causes of losses, loss prevention techniques, and the biggest challenges for employers.

Understand the Causes of Manufacturing Injuries

A wide range of production industries, including machinery, food items, wood products, plastics, clothing, etc., have manufacturing operations. This diversity guarantees that no two manufacturers will have the same exposures to injuries and industrial illnesses. With that said, there are some overlaps in manufacturing operations, and chances are that all manufacturing facilities encounter some of the following injury sources:

  1. Machinery-related injuries associated with guarding and lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures. These injuries tend to be high severity, or at least have the potential to be very serious. It's also no secret that these two program areas are frequently the top two programs cited during Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforcement actions within the manufacturing industry. While this is partially because OSHA has well-established requirements for both areas, the agency also realizes these are two exposure areas that can lead to serious injuries.
  2. Injuries from forklift or electric pallet jack incidents. Forklift injuries can be very serious. They can be related to the type of equipment chosen but are also often related to how that equipment is used and how well training and observations are completed.
  3. Slip, trip, and fall injuries. These can originate from slippery floor conditions, housekeeping issues, heights, or ladders. Any manufacturing facility that involves old facilities, steps, liquids, or debris commonly found on the floors, will commonly struggle with slip or trip injuries.
  4. Ergonomic injuries from lifting, pushing, pulling, excessive forces, awkward postures, and repetitive motion. Because ergonomic injuries are so common, they are often divided into many different categories on carrier loss runs and in trending documentation. It can be helpful to put them all together and look at them collectively to see if ergonomic factors are a large issue for your operation.

Five Loss Prevention Techniques to Implement

Manufacturers can use various risk management techniques to reduce accidents and injuries in these common areas of exposure. Some of the most effective loss prevention techniques include the following:

1. Acquire knowledge about safety guards on manufacturing equipment. Some of the challenges manufacturers face include a lack of knowledge about minimum guarding requirements. Some carriers and consulting groups maintain guarding specialists simply because changing regulations make this such a difficult topic to track.

Manufacturers face other challenges such as production employees removing safety guards, maintenance department employees removing safety guards, safety guards becoming damaged, or purchasing equipment without proper guards in place. This can be secondary to purchasing used equipment or purchasing equipment built to standards in other countries that do not meet US standards.

There are also liability challenges around this topic. For example, employers making their own machine guards, altering machines, and not guarding older machines that weren't guarded at the time of manufacture, can increase their potential liability.

Solutions to the issues above include:

  • Using a guarding expert to help you identify missing or insufficient guards and completing fixes for those guards using the equipment manufacturer's direction.
  • A daily prestart checklist that forces the operator of the machinery to visually verify the guards are in place.
  • Backing up daily visuals with a periodic cross-department inspection to help keep guards in place.

Another issue some manufacturers deal with is bypassing of guards or mounting guards in such a way that makes them easy and quick to remove. Both practices are red flags and should cause an investigation. It may be that engineering issues such as a jamming machine or frequent breakdowns are the root cause of employees removing, insufficiently mounting, or bypassing guards. The time and effort to solve this issue is worth it.

2. Get serious about lockout/tagout (LOTO). Each unique piece of equipment should have its own specific written LOTO procedure. Any qualified person who applies the written procedure must be observed at least once annually by a second qualified person while they are applying it, and the process itself must be reviewed annually. Many employers laminate the procedure and hang it by the machine to ensure it is readily available. Strict enforcement of LOTO procedures is a must to prevent injuries and prevent an OSHA citation. If an equipment injury occurs, you can plan on any weakness in the LOTO procedure or guarding being addressed in the citations issued.

3. Specify safety features when purchasing powered material handling equipment. Choosing the correct powered material handling equipment based on the specifications of your workplace is a large advantage. Forklift and electric pallet jack manufacturers have designed many safety features and advancements over the last several years to help employers prevent injuries. For example, blue lights that aim 10 feet in front and behind lifts help increase visibility. Other safety features include speed governing, backup alarms, impact monitors that assist employers in knowing which of their operators may be struggling to operate safely, and card key systems that ensure employers can tell who is operating which equipment and when.

The lift choice can also have a large impact on risk. One example is the choice between front-riding powered pallet jacks and center-riding powered pallet jacks—this single decision can mean the difference between a severe ankle injury and no injury at all. While center-riding jacks require more room to operate, they don’t lend themselves to ankle injuries the same way front-riding ones do. Preplanning to ensure facility aisles and ends are large enough for this equipment type all play a role in successful equipment choices.

4. Evaluate flooring choices, housekeeping, and footwear programs. Usually, slips and trips have multiple causes, and it takes good investigation techniques to identify what needs to be done to prevent them. Degreasing schedules, flooring type, floor cleaning product type, flooring history, non-slip footwear programs and tread depth monitoring, lighting, step uniformity, and many other factors come into play here. While expensive, custom floor treatments that seal, coat, and permanently affix a grit layer to floors that are frequently wet may be the answer in some facilities. For others, the solution may be changing and monitoring footwear programs. Frequently, especially in food manufacturing and processing, there is a need for both.

5. Consider automation. Automation can be a good answer to ergonomic injury and some of the employment problems that manufacturers are facing related to workforce availability. Automating specific work cells or tasks often eliminates ergonomic exposure. That said, automation is usually mixed with older lines with still-active manual processes, and at times, employees will have to interact with that automation. This can cause challenges with integration and ensuring that the safety measures in place for the plant are sufficient to cover the new automated elements.

Woodruff Sawyer's loss prevention experts can help you understand your risks and how to mitigate them. Contact your Account Executive if you need to update your loss prevention program.


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