While the engineering and manufacturing industry faces many challenges, employee safety is one of the most important. Investing in quality personal protective equipment (PPE), adapting processes and providing the right training can help overcome these challenges

The greatest asset any company has is its employees, as they ensure that processes run smoothly and at a productive pace. This is particularly relevant in the manufacturing industry, which relies on employees to monitor, assemble or produce goods. Their safety is essential to ensuring a profitable production line.

A good starting point is to ensure the workplace provides adequate comfort. Workers in the manufacturing industry often spend most of the day on their feet or standing. This puts them at greater risk of fatigue or musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Fatigue caused by long working hours, and laborious tasks can reduce concentration by 23 percent and memory function by 18 percent, which can place employees at greater risk of an injury as they are likely to pay less attention to their work. Tasks become nine-percent more difficult when employees are fatigued and their ability to deal with stress decreases.

MSDs affect the muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and other soft tissue. Although these disorders initially manifest as mild discomfort, they can quickly result in acute pain. Prolonged periods of standing can damage joints and lead to swollen legs, foot disorders (such as Achilles tendonitis) back, hip and neck pain and can slowly diminish elasticity in soft tissue.

MSDs are a big contributor to workplace absenteeism. In South Africa, MSDs account for 40 percent of all chronic conditions and 54 percent of long-term disabilities.

To combat fatigue and MSDs, the manufacturing industry can consider adapting the workplace or procedures to provide more comfort for employees. It is, after all, the employer’s responsibility to reduce potential harm to the workforce. One suggested change that can be easily implemented is to provide anti-fatigue mats.

The cushioned surface of the matting encourages foot movement, which assists with blood circulation and reduces the chances of MSDs. The mat allows the body to mimic the movement of walking, despite being in a static position. Market research, undertaken by a provider of anti-fatigue matting, found that 75 percent of companies that used these mats saw an improvement in the well-being of staff.

Anti-fatigue matting was found to reduce pain and increase productivity. Some 23 percent of companies included in the market research also found that absenteeism declined as a result of the anti-fatigue mats.

Depending on the product being manufactured, employees are also at a great risk of slips and falls. Various chemicals, oils, water or other fluids might spill onto the floor of the factory. To prevent employees from slipping, the industry can ensure spills are cleaned immediately, signs are strategically placed and employees adhere to the three-anchor rule.

The rule requires employees to always have three anchor points, for example, two hands on the railings and one foot securely grounded, when walking.

Anti-slip mats also help to prevent trips, slips and falls. There are various mats available on the market, each catering for specific spills.

Companies should consult a qualified supplier regarding the correct anti-slip mat for their industry and potential spills. Some suppliers also offer mats that combine anti-slip and anti-fatigue technology. This ensures maximum protection without an exorbitant investment.

Employees in the manufacturing industry should also be provided with the basic PPE to ensure their safety. While the PPE required will depend on the product being produced, most manufacturers will have to invest in body protection or overalls, eye protection, hand protection, footwear and, potentially, hard hats.

Hand protection is particularly important, as most employees either handle the actual product or
operate machinery to produce the product. It is important for safety gloves to protect against the relevant chemicals in the workplace and to fit the employee comfortably. Ill-fitting or uncomfortable PPE is often removed, exposing the employee to potential injury.

Most factories also have loud machinery. It is, therefore, important to equip employees with appropriate and adequate hearing protection. Employers should consult with the PPE suppliers to determine the most appropriate equipment as well as training in the use thereof.

Manufacturers that invest in the safety of their employees will reap the reward of a more motivated, productive and safe production line with fewer days lost to absenteeism and injury. After all, employees are the greatest asset of any company.

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