Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Building a culture of data-driven workplace safety

February 18, 2020
By Ian (Hyam) Nicacio

Photo: © ShadowDesigns/Getty ImagesPhoto: © ShadowDesigns/Getty Images

A growing number of Canadian manufacturing companies are adopting digital technologies as they aim to transform their businesses – by improving operational efficiency and employee productivity.

In general, the increased prevalence of automation in every sector of manufacturing has become inevitable. However, in the race to achieve operational excellence and boost profit margins, companies must not forget the basic principle: employee wellbeing and safety is essential to any successful operation.

With 951 fatalities and 251,625 workplace injuries reported in Canada in 2017, the need to foster a culture of employee safety in the Canadian workplace is evident.

Keeping employees safe on the job should be the highest priority for any organization – big or small – it’s the right thing to do and can also improve your bottom line, because a safe manufacturing operation is also a productive one.

If the right steps are taken, it can be a source of savings for companies by limiting production downtime, reducing worker time off for injuries and avoiding ministry reviews. The key is to track and use meaningful data to enhance workplace safety.

Here are a few tips for your business to consider developing a safer workplace for your employees:

Tip 1: Capture and analyze data effectively

Some of the common health and safety data organizations collect are the number of incidents, type and frequency of accidents, injuries and ill health.

In addition to tracking workplace injury categories such as “date” and “injury severity,” companies should also consider tracking specific categories such as “time of day,” “shift,” “supervisor name,” and “body part” – with further detailed drop-down options such as “left shoulder” and “right eye.”

Many organizations don’t capture specific data points, and ultimately fail to fully realize the potential of the information at their disposal. Often, the reason for this is these data points are stored in different systems, exist in “silos” and aren’t used for insights or analytics. Many health and safety managers also feel their collection and analysis is either too time consuming or expensive – all of which are myths.

Tip 2: Keep it simple. Data doesn’t need to be complicated

Any organization can effectively track and collect data but if the acquired data is complicated, people will choose to ignore the information however valuable it may be.

It’s essential for safety leaders to be comfortable with analytics so they can communicate meaningful data that highlights trends and patterns in company injuries and helps organizations focus efforts where needed. Examples of trends that data can uncover include employee complacency, lack of equipment and carelessness.

Good record-keeping makes it easier for employers to evaluate the effectiveness of their health and safety programs and can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet.

Additionally, good records may provide evidence to help an employer act before an injury occurs, accurately track injuries over time and respond to worker compensation claims. As an example, at 3M we noted shoulder discomfort at our computer station in a plant so we installed an adjustable desk before it became an injury.

To avoid the hassle of paperwork, organizations could consider using apps to help document and track workplace injuries, frequency of accidents, etc. This is what 3M did in Canada – transition 24 checklist binders into an app. The outcome: safety managers found it easier to document and analyze problems given the app’s simplicity and adaptability.

Tip 3: Create processes that are easily implemented

Regardless of what industry you operate in, employees expect a top-down approach when it comes to instilling processes that improve efficiencies, add value and are simple and fast enough for them to use.

Through data-driven insights, organizations can create guidelines for taking action that drive operational change, whether it’s about handling new equipment or providing workers with additional training. It also creates the foundation to develop effective safety measures, as there is a better understanding of health and safety hazards in a facility or organization.

Tip 4: Use data to create cultural change

Dissecting data for insights and new processes will not be successful if it doesn’t transform an organization’s attitude towards workplace safety. Organizations must take innovative steps to deliver easy-to-digest information that can advocate, sensitize and instil key safety values in their workplace culture. Additionally, anticipating and addressing safety concerns ultimately increases trust in leadership when these types of cultural changes are implemented.

Tip 5: Always use the right equipment for the job

Never compromise on the quality of equipment or try to improvise a tool to do a job, as that could prove costly and dangerous. Assess your work processes to identify operational gaps and ensure you get the right equipment to fill those gaps. Of course, employees must be provided adequate training to use the equipment properly as well.

As organizations continue to transform their business operations digitally, it is equally important that they also prioritize the digital transformation of their workplace safety if they really wish to improve their bottom lines.

Ian (Hyam) Nicacio is the plant manager of 3M’s personal safety division.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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