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10 Worker Safety and Productivity Tips for 2018

March 2, 2018
The Industrial Internet of Things can help safety leaders become more connected to their workers.

Workplace safety is a multifaceted issue for many manufacturers and industrial operators. It includes both machine and process safety and is vital to protecting workers, avoiding production interruptions and achieving operational excellence. While it’s a new year, the challenges in manufacturing remain the same, including fewer available workers, globalization, innovation, safety and security concerns and how best to use information.

Here is a list of ten tips to help you meet these challenges and see improvements in safety and productivity.

1. Improve Your Safety Maturity

Safety maturity is a combination of culture (behavior), compliance (policies and procedures) and use of capital (technologies). Repeated studies show the top 20 percent of manufacturers achieve 5-7 percent higher OEE, 2-4 percent less unscheduled downtime, and less than half the injury rate of average performers – and the top performers are extending their lead.

These best-in-class performers view safety as a key element in their pursuit of operational excellence. They use contemporary safety methodologies to achieve it. For example, an LNS Research survey found 75 percent of industrial companies said that they have seen operational improvements resulting from the use of advanced safety technology.

So how do you join their ranks? Begin by assessing your own safety maturity and see how you compare to others. Understanding your performance level and areas for improvement is critical to optimizing safety.

2. Address Safety and Security Together

As industrial operations become more connected, organizations should review security risks in relation to safety risks. We all know security helps protect our intellectual property, operations and brand. Unfortunately, the inherent safety implications of security risks are too often overlooked.

When manufacturers understand how cyber security threats can impact the safety and well-being of their employees, facilities and the environment, they are better equipped to take a holistic approach that integrates security and safety considerations. A wealth of tools, technologies, services and educational resources are available to help manufacturers meet compliance requirements, conduct appropriate risk analyses, and mitigate both safety and security risks in connected operations.

3. Improve Collaboration

EHS is most directly responsible for worker safety but only directly controls the least-effective machine safety methods. Engineering focuses on technical standards yet has control of the most-effective machine safety methods. Often, these two departments view each other suspiciously, which may result in reduced safety and productivity.

A key element of safety maturity, mentioned above, is collaboration between the two groups—along with operations. In fact, a recent LNS Research study found that organizations in which these three functions collaborate experience a 15 percent lower median incident rate.

4. Perform Risk Assessments Early in the Design Process

Designing risks out of machinery, rather than building a machine and then trying to make it safer, is critical. Most companies perform a risk assessment at some point. A key question for any new machine is when you will conduct a risk assessment on it. Is it early in the design process, when risks can be designed out, or is it after the machine is designed, built and ready to ship?

It’s vital to perform a risk assessment early in the design process and again after the machine is in place at its operating location to help verify compliance, safety and productivity. Studies show that 60-70 percent of safety incidents occur outside of normal operating mode (during maintenance, repair, etc.).

5. Design Ergonomic Machinery

Our industry’s changing workforce is creating new safety considerations. Younger and inexperienced workers are at higher risk for acute injuries. Older workers are at higher risk for musculoskeletal and repetitive stress injuries, which can often be chronic or career ending.

Getting the most from every available worker now requires building machines for a more diverse workforce. Hazard assessments should consider not only the traditional hazards, but also ergonomic and usability issues for a broad range of workers. Engineers performing assessments, building functional specifications and designing machinery need to assess all potential operator and maintenance technician movements as part of the process. This means including ambidextrous features and reducing repetitive motion, lifting, and awkward placement of the body.

6. Use LOTO Alternative Measures to Improve Productivity

Safety doesn’t have to come at the expense of productivity. Contemporary machinery design allows for minor service exceptions to lockout/tagout (LOTO) when procedures are routine, repetitive and integral to the use of the equipment. These alternative measures can help optimize the operation and maintenance of a machine by reducing the time it takes for maintenance tasks to be safely completed.

Instead of shutting off power to an entire machine for repairs – effectively stopping operations to tend to certain issues that can happen multiple times a day – alternative measures can systematically reduce mean time to repair. This decreased machine downtime can lead to improved system yield, ultimately benefitting the bottom line while still maintaining compliance. In some cases, alternative measures can be the difference between mere compliance and operational excellence.

7. Bring Safety into a Connected Enterprise

The power of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can substantially improve your safety compliance and performance. A smarter approach to safety begins with using contemporary safety technologies that combine machinery control and safety control into one platform. These systems are less susceptible to nuisance shutdowns than hardwired safety systems, which can help you improve productivity and profitability.

They also offer another key benefit: access to safety-system data. This data can include stoppage codes, error and fault codes, device statuses, event sequences, and more. By harvesting this data and converting it into meaningful information, you can transform how safety is monitored and managed in your operations.

8. Make Safety Integral to Your Control System

Control systems should include safety-rated inputs, logic and output devices to help mitigate risks, improve productivity and provide information to key stakeholders. Designing effective, productivity-enhancing safety systems in a connected enterprise can be challenging. Safety design tools can streamline development and help ease compliance.

A connected enterprise empowers safety professionals with a real-time understanding of worker behaviors, machinery compliance, causes of safety shutdowns or stoppages, and safety anomalies and trends. It can also help improve your ability to hire, train and retain employees.

9. Use Smart Safety

New smart-safety designs and devices can reduce your wiring, design costs, and unscheduled downtime. For example, you can capture smart-device interactions to create predictive maintenance feedback and other information. Controlling machine access to authorized and trained personnel to improve productivity, safety and security.

10. Build Your Safety Expertise

You need engineers, system integrators and machine builders with expertise in current safety standards, a proven track record in building safety systems and knowledge of productivity-enhancing safety system design processes and technologies.

This expertise can be built internally, or through your systems integrator and engineering relationships.

While many of the safety challenges remain the same for manufacturers and industrial operators, evolving technologies are helping ease compliance and improve safety, all while keeping operations productive. Resolve to tackle some of these safety challenges in 2018, and position your organization as a safety leader.  

Steve Ludwig is the commercial programs manager, safety, at Rockwell Automation.

About the Author

Steve Ludwig

Steve Ludwig is the commercial programs manager, safety, at Rockwell Automation.

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