The Most Common Workplace Hazards in Manufacturing and How Workers Can Protect Themselves
By Joe Brandel and Jim Huebner, Contributors
Those working in the manufacturing industry face a number of hazards on a daily basis; in 2019, a total of 846,700 injuries occurred on the job. What’s more, these injuries account for a total of 15% of the private sector’s nonfatal injuries and illnesses. The most common causes of workplace injuries that manufacturing workers face are coming into contact with objects and equipment (34%); overexertion and other bodily reactions (32%); slips, trips, or falls (18%); repetitive motion (6%); and exposure to harmful substances (5%).
A fast-paced environment, dangerous machinery, and a variety of other hazards make it critical that the manufacturing industry adheres to safety standards. Understanding the types of hazards workers are most at risk from, and how they can protect themselves, is one of the most crucial steps to ensure a safer workplace.
Common Causes of Injuries
While machinery is a key component of manufacturing work, it can be dangerous and relatively difficult to operate. Oftentimes, workers become entangled in machinery, leading to severe injuries. Another common workplace tool, forklifts, lead to a significant number of injuries. Between 2011 and 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that forklift accidents caused 614 fatalities and injured over 7,000 people in the U.S.
Further compounding the issue of dealing with machinery is the long hours that many factory and manufacturing workers face. Employees working long hours can experience exhaustion and overexertion on the job. Fatigued employees are more likely to make mistakes that they otherwise wouldn’t have, putting themselves and others at unnecessary risk. According to a survey from the National Safety Council, up to 13% of workplace injuries could be attributed to fatigue, and a total of 89% of those in the manufacturing industry surveyed report that they feel the impact of fatigue on their work.
The third most common cause of accidents in manufacturing is slips, trips, and falls. From unlevel flooring to unsafe facilities and unsecured ladders, these accidents are especially dangerous because falls lead to nearly half of all traumatic brain injury (TBI) hospitalizations.
Lastly, depending on where employees work and what they’re exposed to on a daily basis, chemical exposure presents a serious risk. This is especially true when workers are not equipped with the proper protective equipment. Accidents can occur due to burst pipes or mishandling of chemicals, exposing the workers to the harmful substance, even if just for a short period of time.
Assess Your Risk Levels
One of the best ways to add safety against machinery-related accidents is to understand what potential hazards exist. Having a risk assessment plan in place enables you to identify the hazards associated with the manufacturing process, the risk level of each hazard, working conditions of equipment, and steps you can take to check for accidents.
Ensuring a safe work environment is provided starts with understanding what risks even exist, and how you can prepare for them.
Ensuring that proper guarding mechanisms are in place is another important factor in keeping workers safe. Moving machinery can cause severe workplace injuries, including amputations, crushed fingers and hands, burns, blindness, and others. It’s critical that safeguards are in place for any machine process, part, and function to avoid these preventable injuries. Companies should ensure compliance with OSHA standards for machine guarding to protect employees accordingly.
One of the most important ways for manufacturing companies to protect their employees is by requiring workers to wear protective gear while on the job. For example, OSHA requires metal workers to wear PPE including gloves, hard hats, eye and face protection, hearing protection, respirators, and protective clothing while working. When workers are handling heavy materials at risk of falling, they should always wear head protection.
The use of safety helmets and hard hats also help protect workers against injuries from slips, trips, and falls, another common cause of workplace injuries in the industry. One of the largest roadblocks to this is the lack of education around the risks of TBIs. When someone’s head impacts the ground from a fall or is struct by an object, it’s likely to be an angled impact or hit, which exposes the worker to rotational motion. Yet many have never even heard of the term “rotational motion” before.
Mips recently commissioned a survey from Nielsen, a consumer survey company, which found that approximately 70% of American and German helmet buyers were unaware of the term “rotational motion.” A common cause of concussions, rotational motion is the combination of rotational forces (angular acceleration) and rotational energy (angular energy).
Studies have even shown the brain is more sensitive to rotational motion than linear motion (straight, non-angular impacts) regarding concussions. Therefore, concussions caused by rotational motion can occur even at lower energy levels.
One of the best ways for workers to add safety against TBIs, and rotational motion, is to wear head protection that fits properly, and is comfortable to wear. The best safety helmet is one that workers will want to wear. Additionally, workers should consider safety helmets that include a system or technology designed to help address the threat of rotational motion. As a result of years of research, there are safety helmets available with rotational motion systems that have been designed to help redirect harmful rotational motion away from the wearer’s head in certain impacts.
Why the Industry Should Care
For those in manufacturing, the risks associated with operating heavy machinery, overexertion, and slips, trips, and falls are likely here to stay. It’s imperative that managers and employees alike understand the risks associated with their work, put effective safeguards into place, and prioritize effective and safe PPE usage.
While these risks aren’t going away, workers can protect themselves with safety precautions and the knowledge of what risks they face.
Joe Brandel is Business Developer North America, Mips (mipsprotection.com).
Jim Huebner is Construction Marketing Channel Manager, Protective Industrial Products (pipglobal.com).
 Kleiven, S (2007). “Predictors for traumatic brain injuries evaluated through accident reconstructions,” Stapp Car Crash J, vol. 51, pp. 81–114, Oct. 2007.
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