For the owners and operators of modern manufacturing facilities, finding an appropriate balance between efficiency and safety can be more challenging than many may expect. Of course, the safety of the workforce must always be considered as the number one priority for business leaders, but safety practices must be implemented with workflow efficiency in mind.
According to research published by the National Safety Council, the manufacturing sector is ranked among the 10 most dangerous industries in terms of work-related injuries, accidents and illnesses. However, thanks to developments in occupational health and safety practices and the efforts of organizations like OSHA, fatalities in the sector have declined significantly.
At the same time, with support from modern technologies, multiple essential aspects of the manufacturing process have been successfully optimized to promote efficiency. Suggesting that businesses can reasonably improve both safety and efficiency via combined processes.
To explore this idea further, below are 4 ways efficiency promotes safety in manufacturing.
How do manufacturers improve efficiency?
Before detailing the potential safety benefits associated with efficient manufacturing, it’s important to understand the methods businesses commonly use to optimize efficiency. While the specifics of these processes can often differ depending on the nature of the business in question, efforts to optimize manufacturing efficiency typically fall into 1 of 3 categories.
Tools and technologies
Specialized machines, devices and software solutions designed to oversee manufacturing operations, with an eye to reducing waste and avoidable downtime. This may include smart sensors used to collect and analyze data, a pursuit that 35% of manufacturers are currently engaged in, alongside robotic machinery designed to perform essential tasks autonomously.
Using a combination of these technologies, manufacturers can reduce machine downtime, mitigate workplace hazards and streamline production activities. It’s for these reasons that it’s believed as many as 76% of manufacturers are currently investing in automated systems.
Policies and protocols
Organizational policies developed by occupational health and safety experts which are used to outline safe and standardized working practices. This includes checks staff must perform before operating certain machines, personal protective equipment that must be worn when engaged in potentially harmful processes and rules regarding the safe use of machinery.
Training and education
Standards for the minimum qualifications required for employees to safely operate machines and equipment, including a commitment to continuous staff training programs. Ensuring staff are suitably trained in the safe and appropriate use of manufacturing equipment ensures that operations run as efficiently as possible to reduce the risk of injuries, errors and downtime.
4 ways efficiency promotes safety in manufacturing
Using a combination of the above tools, techniques and methodologies, manufacturers can make continuous improvements to most essential processes. These developments typically strike a balance between safety and efficiency to the benefit of employers and workers alike.
1. Less chance of human error
Both the development of automated manufacturing systems and the creation of standardized working practices help businesses to measurably reduce risks associated with human error. By automating repetitive and potentially hazardous manufacturing tasks, employers remove the need for staff to interact with dangerous materials, reducing the occurrence of accidents.
Automated manufacturing systems are typically informed by integrated data analytics tools, with software developed to monitor machine performance on a continuous basis. This helps workers to both optimize the efficiency of production processes and ensure all machines are maintained appropriately, in turn leading to less equipment faults and fewer safety issues.
Additionally, smart sensors deployed to monitor production activities can also be used to improve the efficacy of safety checks. Staff can program these tools to disengage machines until required safety checks have been performed, with audible alerts programmed to warn employees of potential issues that need to be actioned before machines can be reactivated.
2. Improved predictive abilities
Modern manufacturing operations can be incredibly complex, with workers and management teams required to monitor a multitude of interconnected systems to keep operations running smoothly. To improve the efficiency of these processes, leaders must be able to accurately predict factors like expected demand and machine downtime to plan operations accordingly.
Data analytics tools and software solutions help manufacturers to improve efficiency, though their use can also bring additional safety benefits. For example, teams can analyze historic accident and injury records to better understand root causes. This data can then help teams to predict which processes may expose new risks to focus efforts on preventative measures.
3. Increased focus on education
One of the most effective ways to improve efficiency in manufacturing is to ensure all staff receive continuous training in the optimal use of essential equipment. The more knowledge and experience an employee has regarding the mechanics of specific equipment, the more prepared they’ll be to ensure tasks are performed as optimally and efficiently as possible.
By developing a workplace culture centered around education, manufacturers can influence their teams to prioritize both safety and efficiency in unison. By developing routines based around frequent checks and assessments, common risk factors can be effectively reduced, and with machines less likely to suffer faults long-term productivity benefits can be pursued.
Extending the knowledge base regarding occupational health and safety to all members of the workforce improves the efficacy of risk assessment and hazard avoidance practices. This can then lead to fewer accidents and injuries, a reduction in avoidable downtime and an overall more predictable and efficient workplace culture influencing all aspects of production.
4. Structured testing and analysis
Manufacturing processes can only be made more efficient in response to actionable data, meaning organizations actively pursuing efficiency improvements must develop structured testing programs. Machines, manual workflows and other essential tasks will be continually assessed, setting a precedent for structured analysis through all facets of production activity.
When regimented testing becomes a central component of a business’ organizational policy, it becomes easier to apply a similar process to wider tasks. This means efforts to improve efficiency can also lead workers to pay closer attention to safety checks, risk assessments and hazard avoidance practices, ultimately promoting a clear safety culture among workers.
Manufacturers across the globe are always looking for new ways to improve the efficiency of production processes, often to gain an advantage in competitive markets. However, efforts to improve efficiency can also lead to wider benefits in terms of occupational health and safety.
The implementation of automated systems can reduce risks associated with human error, the use of data analytics solutions can help teams better assess potential hazards and the development of structured training and organizational policies can help to foster a culture of safety in the workplace. These efforts enable efficiency to promote safety in manufacturing.