Despite technical developments, stricter regulations and safer practices, manufacturing employs 10% of the British workforce but reports 16% of major injuries and 18% of workplace fatalities. The industry looks set to play an important role in the future UK economy and investment in safety now would provide a competitive edge.
From making food and drink to aerospace and oil and gas production, the manufacturing sector spans far and wide. The challenges for the industry have been and are still many. Some analysts consider that a shift towards more manufacturing and exports is required if a sustainable economic future is to be built.
Keeping a safe and healthy workforce is vital regardless of the approach that manufacturing companies decide to take to face this challenging future.
In 2013/14, the British manufacturing industry saw over 3,100 specified injuries and around 10,436 over-seven-day injuries. On top of this, common occupational diseases including dermatitis, deafness, asthma and back, hand, arm, shoulder and neck problems are suffered by some of the industry’s 2.8 million workers. So the industry has a lot to contend with. As well as looking after its own employees, there is also a duty towards contractors, customers and members of the public who visit the premises and even others, such as neighbours and other workpeople who may be affected by the manufacturing business.
A dangerous industry
Machinery and machine guarding, movement of people, goods and vehicles, hazardous substances, noise and vibration are just some of the concerns facing employers. Continuous investment in procedures, machinery and staff training is one way to stay ahead of concerns.
Neil Lloyd, head of manufacturing for asset finance specialist Lombard, says: “Pressures for high standards of safety are paramount in manufacturing. Complex regulations within the sector often pose further risks and continue to place pressure on management time.
“As an employer, you’ll want to make sure that you, your business and your employees are fully protected from the risks that come from working within the manufacturing sector.”
It is vital that manufacturing companies develop suitable policies and procedures, appropriate health and safety management systems and work towards training and occupational health activities.
Some of the simple steps that manufacturing companies should take include:
- Decide how to manage health and safety within the business
- Ensure you have access to competent health and safety advice either internally or via an external source
- Consult with employees on health and safety matters and provide training
- Assess the risks to employees and others who may be affected by your operations
- Create procedures in case of serious and imminent danger, such as fire or spillages
- Undertake periodic examination and testing of certain types of work equipment such as lifting equipment, local exhaust ventilation, etc
- Provide health surveillance where required, for example to assist with control of metal working fluids or respiratory hazards
- Report work-related incidents, diseases and dangerous occurrences.
The consequences of failures
Failure to keep up can have serious consequences such as legal action, heavy fines and damage to reputation. HSE inspectors and enforcement officers from local authorities are legally empowered to visit workplaces without notice, investigate accidents or complaints and inspect the safety, health and welfare aspects of your business, talk to employees and safety representatives, take photographs and samples and receive co-operation and answers to questions.
If there is a problem, they may issue a formal notice requiring improvements or, where serious danger exists, a notice that prohibits the use of a process or equipment. For the most serious breaches of health and safety law, they may prosecute a firm or an individual.
Fee for Intervention
If, during the process of checking work activities and investigating incidents and complaints, an HSE inspector sees a material breach of the law, a fee will be charged. Introduced in October 2012, the aim of FFI is to shift the burden of cost from HSE and the taxpayer to the offending party.
Fees are based on the amount of time the inspector has spent identifying the breach, investigating and taking enforcement action, and generally helping to put it right.
In HSE’s first 12 invoice runs (first invoice issued January 2013 for Oct/Nov 2012, latest invoice issued December 2014 for Aug/Sept 2014):
- 11,656 invoices were issued to manufacturing companies
- Invoices totalled more than £6.5m.
So there still appears to be significant issues and breaches across the industry – and with fines of thousands of pounds, it is an expensive lesson to learn.
Richard Hill, head of automotive and manufacturing at RBS and NatWest, stresses that as well as breaching legislation and subsequent fines, manufacturers could be posing a real risk to their growth and business prospects.
“Although health and safety investment can often cause friction due to costs incurred in comparison to overseas competitors, investment provides many positives. Not least an enhanced business case for investors, buyers and customers.”
Richard continues: “Manufacturers seeking contracts in new markets often need to provide proof that they successfully meet stringent requirements. A lapse in standards can result in a loss of real business prospects. Good health and safety also means a safer and happier workforce. It means people want to work with you, so you retain good staff and subsequently high standards.”
When things go wrong
According to HSE (2014) although the manufacturing sector accounts for 10% of British employees, it also sees 16% of major (‘specified’) injuries, 18% of workplace fatalities and 18% of over-seven-day injuries.
This is just one example of the consequences when things go wrong in manufacturing: in August 2014, an Aberdeenshire animal feed firm was handed a fine of £240,000 after an employee was crushed to death by a falling grain bin.
HSE investigated the incident, which occurred in March 2013, and found that the company, East Coast Viners Grain LLP, did not have a safe system of work in place.
The forklift training that had been arranged by a private firm was found to be insufficient. Site procedures stating the requirement that all visiting drivers be out of the way during the loading of bins had not been adequately communicated to staff. These types of incidents had also previously been reported, yet no solution had been implemented to prevent the falling of bins and also protect staff members.
David Leslie, 49, was working with the driver to empty the feed from the bin, which weighed around 600kg in total. Mr Leslie was waiting at the bottom of the grain elevator to pull the lever in order to empty the bin when it fell on top of him.
The company pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
HSE principal inspector Niall Miller remarked on East Coast Viners Grain’s failure to protect its employees: “It was entirely foreseeable that there was a risk of death or serious injury if the grain bin fell from the forklift truck, particularly as the company was aware of previous incidents of loads falling.”
It was noted that since the incident the firm has begun transporting feed in cloth bags, rather than the weighty metal bins.
Manufacturing is vital to the future of the British economy. Pressures for high standards of safety are paramount and the drive for efficiency is listed as a business priority in many manufacturing boardrooms. Complex and specific regulations within the sector often pose further risks and continue to place pressure on management time.
As an employer, you’ll want to make sure that you, your business and your employees are fully protected from the risks that come from working within the manufacturing sector.
Jerry Hill is head of consultancy support at Mentor
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