Imperfection hurts, kills

Paul V. Arnold, Noria Corporation

Seventy-four percent of U.S. manufacturers say their workplace is safer than it was a year ago, according to the results of a recent survey.

Work-related deaths in U.S. plants fell 15.2 percent in 2005, according to a new Bureau of Labor Statistics report (see Page 58). Earlier this year, the BLS reported that work-related injuries and illnesses in the manufacturing industry decreased yet again - a 3.3 percent drop in its latest one-year data collection period.

It all sounds great. But we cannot get comfortable or lax as a result of the surveys, data curves or trend studies. The manufacturing industry is far from perfect. You know it, and I know it. A total of 393 plant workers were killed on the job last year and 941,900 suffered work-related injuries or illnesses. If you take the latest BLS case rates into account, one out of every 15 manufacturing workers will suffer an OSHA recordable (at least an occupational injury or illness) over the next 12 months. Take a look at your 60-person department and envision which four people will get hurt (or potentially worse) this coming year. I feel very strongly about this subject because of what I have seen while visiting a ton of plants. The following accounts are real, having occurred in the last few years.



  • A mid-sized metal fabricator was extolling to me the virtues of its very visual workplace. My host pointed out signage posted to draw attention to, among other things, safe work practices. A short time later, two workers were carrying a large piece of sheet metal. These sheets were heavy and had sharp edges. A manager passing by noticed that one of the workers was wearing two left-handed work gloves. The worker said the mismatched pairs were erroneously supplied by a local distributor. "I've worn the lefties all day. We're getting new pairs in the morning." The other worker refused to wear the lefty on his right hand. It was uncomfortable. So, he went bare-handed, except for the gauze that covered the cut in his right palm. This plant was good, but far from perfect.


    These are just a few of the safety sights I've seen. I have literally a dozen others I could tell. (I could spend a whole column talking about workers who glide through oil/grease/fluids on the plant floor as if they were an Olympic skater.)

    Plants need to continually find ways (via engineered solutions, better communication, knowledge dissemination, partnering with suppliers, reward systems, etc.) to improve their safe work practices. The alternative isn't perfect, and it isn't safe.

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