Working in construction, manufacturing, or other industrial settings is, by nature, hazardous and unfortunately too many workplaces don’t properly equip staff for the risks involved in their work. Staff might don protective gear like steel-toed boots and hard hats, or may be instructed to avoid moving through certain areas of a factory, such as the cordoned off lanes meant for robots in Amazon factories, but that’s often the limit of workers’ preparation.
If supervisors and managers in industrial work environments are going to prioritize worker well-being, they need to teach and enforce a much more extensive set of safety practices and skills. These 3 practices should form the backbone of all industrial safety training, from the newest worker onsite to the foreman.
Communication Comes First
When it comes to safety, no matter the setting, open communication should be the top priority. That means workers should feel confident that if they report unsafe conditions to a supervisor, the issue will be fixed promptly, that they will be listened to by coworkers when sharing important safety information, and that everyone is able to hear and see each other so that they can convey information about environmental hazards.
In addition to prioritizing communication, industrial settings should always take into account the nuances of their workplace to determine the best modes of communication; For example, even yelling may not work in a very loud machine shop, so lines of sight would be important there. In kitchens, however, it’s common for workers to call out to each other when moving with sharp or hot items. Whatever the approach, workers need to be able to exchange safety information as conditions change in order to prevent injuries.
Use The Right Tools
Lifting injuries, which may cause back pain or muscle spasms, are common in many workplaces because workers are expected to carry unsafe amounts of weight or move too quickly to meet quotas, but they don’t need to be such a commonplace occurrence. In fact, employers are empowered to offer their workers a variety of tools to prevent lifting injuries. Unfortunately, many fail to do so.
In addition to teaching workers proper lifting techniques, industrial environments should keep appropriate assistive equipment like dollies and forklifts available. Hand trucks and similar dollies are particularly important because such tools are most likely to be used to transport items that an individual worker could lift, but should not lift for safety reasons. When such items are not conveniently placed, staff may avoid using them, especially when working on tight deadlines.
Provide Proper Training
It’s important to provide proper equipment for workers in industrial environments, including heavy machinery like forklifts where appropriate, but when doing so, only fully trained workers should use those machines. Too often, individuals are allowed to work with or around forklifts without being fully trained, and this has led to serious, even fatal, accidents. People may also become negligent in their safety practices over time, so staff should regularly undergo refresher trainings and be audited on their safety practices for their protection and the protection of others around them.
Too often, safety comes second to productivity in industrial settings, but it’s unacceptable to put workers at risk unnecessarily. Supervisors have an obligation to enforce safety protocols and develop practices that support workers’ health and safety needs. When speed and other market forces put workers in jeopardy, leadership needs to step back and reassess what really matters.