Have you ever read a headline about an industrial accident and thought to yourself, “I hope that doesn’t happen to us.” Headlines about industrial incidents have been seen far too often in the last couple of years. According to 2021 U.S. Census data, 5,190 fatal work injuries were recorded, which was an 8.9% increase from 2020. During that year, a worker died every 101 minutes from a work-related injury. This column isn’t meant to come across as a scare tactic, but you don’t want to find yourself making headlines in a bad way.
So, the question to be asked is, what kind of environment are you creating in your facility? Most days are started with a safety briefing or safety share. Safety has become ingrained into your mission statement and your culture, but what are you doing each day to promote safety, awareness, and reliability? I mention reliability because many of the same behaviors found in safety are some of the same behaviors associated with cultures with high reliability. Studies have also shown that as Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) increases, worker injuries go down.
Avoid alarm fatigue
In addition to creating a culture of safety, awareness, and reliability, do the people in your facility suffer from “alarm fatigue”? This is a term that is heard commonly in the medical industry, but can also be within our industry. Alarm fatigue happens when workers become desensitized and then have a delayed response to constant alerts to machine and system malfunctions. Alarms don’t just sound for no reason. Whether they are false alarms or constant alarms, both should be looked into with the same diligence in order to prevent the occurrence of alarm fatigue in your facility.
What’s the plan?
Another consideration of keeping your facility safe and reliable is to put an emphasis on supporting your workers with good procedures, job plans, and by investing in training. When your workers aren’t given good job plans or work procedures, you’ve greatly limited their effectiveness to do work efficiently, safely, and effectively. Taking small steps each week to discuss proper maintenance techniques, procedures, or discussing feedback from the week’s work could go a long way in helping to create awareness about proper work and opens communication to get valuable feedback from your front-line workers.
Do more with less
Workers in many industries are under much unnecessary stress and pressure because of being forced to do more with less, but have you ever thought about what is the true cost of an unfilled job at your facility? Between the added stress and overtime hours on your existing workers, the true cost includes the potential loss of production due to poorly staffed facilities, the cost of turnover and having to constantly train replacements, low morale, and lost experience, all of which can contribute to high-stress work environments and unsafe conditions. Once the true costs associated with an unfilled maintenance and reliability job are realized, one can make the case that changes need to be made.
Listen for staffing issues
So, when errors become failures, and failures become catastrophes, please don’t let the blame be on overworked and poorly staffed employees who have been sounding the alarm on unsafe conditions for years. Humans are our most valuable asset. Listen to them, listen to their concerns, and don’t put them in unsafe conditions without being trained in the best way possible. Give them what they need to do their jobs effectively and safely. Examine your staffing issues such as workload, work hours, and worker absences, all of which can be indicators of worker fatigue. Make adjustments to the work environment to increase alertness, such as increased lighting, a more comfortable temperature, and the general physical surroundings. Don’t become numb to alarms.