One of the biggest concerns for anyone working in manufacturing and engineering should be personal safety and compliance. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it or whether or not you particularly enjoy the necessary protocols you must follow. The fact of the matter is that if you don’t follow the proper handling, precautions and policies for general work safety, you could find yourself in serious danger.
Work health and safety is especially concerning in the manufacturing industry because of the nature of the responsibilities. You’ll regularly find yourself interacting with a vast number of systems and machinery that could cause damage or harm, either to you personally or to someone nearby. It’s vital that you know and understand the proper safety guidelines for the environment where you’ll be working.
Mechanical Equipment Safety
It’s nearly impossible to single out one or two pieces of mechanical equipment used in manufacturing, because there are so many. However, the general operation of such machinery tends to be similar, as there are commonly moving parts and excessive force involved, which could potentially cause severe harm.
Rotating shafts, components or gears could lead to entanglement or worse, especially when there’s loose clothing or freely hanging elements involved. Scissor, shearing or slicing components could easily cause the severing of a limb. Unorganized cables or hoses could create fall hazards. Sharp edges — especially when thin metal is involved — could cut or puncture the skin.
Of course, beyond that, there are also dangerous driver-assisted machines like forklifts, heavy machinery, proprietary saws and cutters, mechanical appendages or robotics and similar equipment.
The necessary precautions include access to a stable work platform, a suitable distance from dangerous components and machinery, the proper protective gear and a safe, form-fitting outfit or uniform. Access should also be limited with such equipment to those authorized and trained to use it, which means employees should steer clear of equipment they’re not familiar with.
Welding can be extremely hazardous for several reasons, the most obvious of which being the interaction with extremely hot materials and surfaces. Hazards may also come in the form of dangerous fumes, radiation and body-damaging noise. Since welding involves the use of oxy-fuel and gas systems — which result in high temperatures used to perform a weld — this process can and will emit toxic fumes.
Prolonged exposure to dangerous fumes, especially through inhalation, can have detrimental effects on a worker’s health. Other potential dangers include electric shock from the live parts and equipment, exposure to radiation from the welding arc, fire, heat and explosive contact, including the splatter or spark of superheated materials. Then, there’s the possibility that the surfaces or components being welded could pose a threat. A large piece of metal or surface could fall or become unhinged during work and crush or slam into a worker.
Welding equipment should be inspected and maintained to ensure that all safety precautions are met. This attention includes welding goggles or helmets, which serve as the only protection for a worker’s face and eyes. When dangerous chemicals are nearby, a positive-powered respirator should be used and incorporated into the mask. Fire-resistant gloves and clothing should be worn to protect from burns and extreme heat.
In addition, all workers should be supervised when conducting a weld — this strategy works best by pairing two workers together to create a system of checks and balances. Also, it’s a good idea to separate grouped welders into booths where applicable. If this step is completed, it’s important to remember that the booths should still provide good ventilation.
Soldering, believe it or not, can generate similar hazardous situations to welding. They produce excessive heat, can create fumes that are dangerous and may also cause eye or skin irritation or worse if protective gear is not used. Make sure you should wear protective gear. Take care of your equipment. Weller Tools recommends tinning because it not only makes soldering easier, but also extends the life of your tip. care for your equipment, rely on the proper tools, like a stand, and understand the difference between types of solder.
In certain work environments — especially with heavy machinery and tools — the noise level can be considered harmful and should therefore be guarded against. Prolonged exposure to these types of environments can result in significant hearing loss.
According to the Work Health and Safety Regulation, the exposure standard is from an average of 85 decibels A-weighted over eight hours, or 140 decibels C-weighted at the peak. The resulting noise levels should be measured at the worker’s ear in order to determine potential health dangers.
The best way to protect against this danger is to wear the proper ear covers. Generally, earplugs are not the most ideal, but they’ll help eliminate some of the noise. Workers in louder environments are better suited to wearing noise-reduction-based headphones or earmuffs.
Outside of that, it’s also a good idea to keep equipment well-maintained, oiled and lubricated as necessary. Particularly loud equipment should not be confined to small spaces where the noise can be amplified. It may also be necessary to install sound-absorbing material on the walls or nearby surfaces or even implement barriers and screens.
Accidents — more commonly seen as slips, trips and falls — are one of the most common injuries that occur in the workplace. They can result in cuts and bruises, sprains or fractures, loss of consciousness and even death. Permanent disabling injuries — aside from death — are some of the worst outcomes because they can prevent loyal and experienced workers from returning to their duties.
Hazards can come from any number of sources. Some of the most common causes include:
- Wet, oily and slippery surfaces that go uncleaned for extended periods
- Splashes of liquids or materials
- Weather hazards, especially in an environment exposed to the elements
- Dusty, dirty or unkempt surfaces and walkways
- Loose and unanchored areas, such as rugs, mats or deteriorating floors
- Obstructed viewpoints that prevent workers from seeing nearby spaces
- Cluttered or dirty workspaces
- Uncovered, loose or frayed cables and wires
- Open drawers, storage and components
- Broken, uneven or loose steps and walking surfaces
The best way to prevent injuries is to regularly audit the workplace to ensure there are as few hazards as possible. In addition, every worker or operator should be familiar with safe working habits to ensure they’re protecting themselves and fellow workers at all times. They should know and understand how to secure equipment they’re working with and nearby machinery to prevent accidents.
In addition, everyone should do their part in making the environment safer and more inviting. If someone discovers a spill, for example, they should take the necessary action to have it cleaned or alert the appropriate source as opposed to just leaving it for someone else to find.
Spills, slippery surfaces and wet areas should be clearly marked. Hazards that cannot be cleaned right away should also be called out somehow, with hazard signs pointing to their existence. You may also have someone take up watch in a potentially hazardous area to warn others.
Working areas and walkways should be well-lit at all times. If possible, obstructed corners and viewpoints should be eliminated or reduced. Floor components — like rugs and mats — should be secured. Storage and other shelving should be closed and secured as soon as they’re not in use.
When working with powered equipment of any kind, there’s always a potential for electric damage or shock. Electrical risks can result in shock or injury of varying levels, anywhere from a minor annoyance to outright death. Contact with exposed parts and live wires can be extremely dangerous, which is why there’s usually some form of shielding or protective barrier used with large machinery.
Outdated and poorly maintained equipment can pose a greater threat to workers. These faults can also pose a greater risk to the property as a whole through fire hazards and potential exterior damage. A live wire or component that comes into contact with other materials, for instance, can cause significant damage.
Inspecting equipment regularly is one of the best ways to combat potential dangers, but that also means knowing what could create or result in electrical hazards. First aid equipment and fire extinguishers should also be kept within a suitable vicinity.
Replacing frayed cords, broken power points and malfunctioning equipment as well as incorporating residual current devices are all necessary precautions as well. When someone is working on equipment or hardware, the power supply should always be disconnected, so turning off appliances at the power point or turning off a breaker entirely may be warranted.
Electrical safety standards should be followed at all times, and the workforce and operators within your plant should be familiar with the protocols involved. They should also have access to the appropriate gear and equipment, including PPE expressly designed to lower the risk of electric shock.
The Key to Safety: Awareness
If you want to remain safe within a dangerous or potentially hazardous environment, the ultimate key is your level of awareness and that of your fellow workers. Absolutely everyone involved should be trained and properly educated on the importance of safety and proper working conditions. That includes taking the necessary precautions before, during and after work to ensure that the environment is safe for everyone.
While it sounds cliche, the best practice is to make it a team effort where everyone is responsible not just for their own safety but also for the safety of everyone around them.