Engineering, manufacturing, and related sectors are still pivotal to the UK economy.
Despite the country falling a few pegs since being the manufacturing powerhouse it once was, MakeUK’s recent statistics point to a £224 billion GVA output in 2023 alone, with 2.6 million people employed in the industry. As for engineering, a recent report from the Royal Academy of Engineering suggests the industry contributes roughly £646 billion in gross value, totalling 32% of the UK’s total economic output. There can therefore be no denying the modern day relevance and importance of these sectors.
Manufacturing and Engineering Remain Risk-Heavy
While ground-breaking technological advancements and digital transformation might have altered the operational landscape for many firms, one thing which has remained constant is workplace health and safety.
As far as manufacturing and engineering are concerned, we have seen the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) issue a hefty fine of £200,000 to an English engineering firm after a worker suffered a fatal injury in 2023. However, this is scratching the surface if we look at the HSE’s notable reported manufacturing fatalities suffered in the UK in the last two years alone.
Therefore, while incidents are undeniably rare, employers still must proactively manage all inherent health and safety risks in these sectors. Whether they employ workers on a full-time basis or work extensively with third-party contractors and consultants, overlooking health and safety in dangerous facilities is a recipe for disaster.
By understanding the most common hazards, implementing preventative measures, and ensuring proper, consistent training, manufacturing and engineering companies can significantly reduce incidents and lessen their severity. In turn, they will be able to foster much safer and more productive working environments without putting workers in unnecessary danger.
Key Health and Safety Risks in Manufacturing and Engineering Roles
Some of the most prominent health and safety risks associated with engineering and manufacturing roles include (but are not limited to) the following.
- Forklifts, pallet trucks, cranes and other vehicles are essential on many sites but also pose crushing, striking and falling risks. Clear and unobstructed signage, walkways, mirrors and alarms can help alert personnel, as can real-time asset tracking so site managers can keep tabs on their whereabouts and route history.
- UK roads naturally provide some perilous routes and hazards for company vehicles, which are often larger and more destructive. There were 1766 deaths and 28,941 serious injuries in 2022, Inclement weather conditions can only add to dangerous conditions on the roads.
- However, routine vehicle checks, services, and repairs can ensure they are less likely to suffer unexpected breakdowns or malfunctions, putting worker safety at risk. Consider investing in advanced driver training if need be.
- Moving parts on machinery can often pose risks of workers getting entangled or trapped, not to mention suffering devastating injuries from crushing to shearing.
- Proper machine guarding and employee training on safe and appropriate use and maintenance are key, as is establishing lockout-tagout (LOTO) procedures without putting workers in unnecessary danger.
Manual Handling Injuries
- Lifting, carrying, pulling or pushing heavy objects incorrectly can lead to musculoskeletal injuries and put workers in increased danger of fatigue and collapsing, to name but a few health risks.
- Ergonomic and posture risks also stem from repetitive, unsafe, or unsupervised movements from tasks or poor assembly work.
- More frequent job rotation, mechanical and vehicular aids can assist in carrying heavy loads, and providing safe lifting and manual handling training is essential.
Slips, Trips and Falls
- Falling from height on scaffolding, platforms or ladders can cause serious injury or even death. Falls from height are the third highest cause of fatal injuries, making up 20% of all fatal accidents. Slippery floors – a huge contributor to these accidents – can be the result of anything from oil or chemical spills to workers wearing the incorrect footwear for the occasion.
- Employers can mitigate these risks by enforcing anti-slip shoes, signage, harnesses, ladders or scaffolds for workers working at heights, and regular inspections to provide workers with greater stability. Employees should only work at heights if they have the proper training and certification to do so.
Electrical, Chemical and Fire Hazards
- Workers can be shocked or burned by livewires, defective cables or insufficient circuit protection. Arc flashes (intense bursts of energy from short circuits) can be particularly severe.
- Not only that, but industrial chemicals from solvents to lubricants and cleaning products could also pose contact risks, as well as inhalation issues. Asbestos, notably, was previously used for insulation but was found to be a particularly damaging carcinogen.
- Flammable chemicals and combustible metals may ignite and spark fires or even explosions if not properly controlled. High-heat work like welding or steelwork can also involve working with combustible materials.
- Employers can mitigate these risks by deploying sufficient amounts of the correct type of PPE which prevents skin damage and respiratory issues. Making sure all hazardous chemicals are stored away and handled properly will also help. While fire protection systems are common in most facilities, high-risk areas require additional measures such as extra fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems. Establish a clear, definitive reporting procedure for any accidents and ensure areas are contained to prevent further injuries.
Additionally, manufacturing and engineering roles largely involve long periods of lone working, which means that employers should also be mindful of the unique risks of being unsupervised for extended periods.
By identifying and mitigating these common risks proactively, organisations can help uphold robust health and safety standards for their staff. Fundamentally, however, this requires instilling a culture of safety at all levels.
Implementing a Health and Safety Culture
Implementing a truly effective health and safety culture across an organisation requires complete buy-in and modelled commitment from management who must lead by example. They must follow all safety protocols themselves to set the tone that health and safety are of utmost importance.
Ongoing training at all levels also helps ingrain safety, where both new and experienced employees undergo general safety orientation and specific job-related hazard training so everyone understands the risks and prevention methods relevant to their roles. Training should also be reinforced through regular refreshers and updated when procedures change.
Creating an open reporting culture is equally important, where workers feel comfortable voicing concerns about unsafe conditions or lapses in protocol without fear of reprisal. An anonymous reporting system can encourage more open reporting so issues can be addressed before incidents occur. Management should also conduct routine safety inspections, with cross-functional safety committees regularly checking facilities for any issues like blocked fire exits, trip hazards, or machine damage needing correction.
Strict compliance with mandatory safety procedures like lockout-tagout must be enforced for high-risk work as well. The use of permits, sign-off checklists, and audits helps verify proper precautions are taken before hazardous work can commence. Employers must provide suitable PPE like hard hats, reflective vests, safety glasses, gloves, and any other protective equipment required to maintain a safe working environment. Rigorous investigation and reporting of all incidents and near misses allows organisations to uncover patterns and deficiencies to systematically prevent recurrences.
The engineering and manufacturing sectors continue to face a diverse range of health and safety risks requiring stringent management. However, implementing preventative measures and training staff to follow established protocols properly is vital, as is cultivating an inclusive, robust culture of safety that you, as management, can become prime examples of upholding.
Undeniably, vigilance will need to be exercised, as incidents will still happen from time to time, but proactive management will help reduce them exponentially, both in frequency and severity.