Incorporating Safety Into Plant Expansions

Completing a facility expansion in this day and age should involve more than simply ordering new machines and increasing the number of orders placed with suppliers. In today’s manufacturing environment, facility expansion plans also should include a careful evaluation of production methodologies, including a thorough analysis of safety processes and procedures.

In recent years, machine safety has become a key factor that will not only improve worker satisfaction, but also improve productivity. After all, even if your plant consistently produces a great product, how productive can your facility really be if your workers are afraid of getting too close to a particular machine or work area? If your plant is unsafe and experiences lost-time accidents (LTAs), how much money are you losing on insurance and worker-compensation claims? For these reasons – and many others – safety considerations should play a big role in the expansion plans of any facility.

American manufacturers must pay careful attention to this, because when it comes to machine safety, the burden to assure safety is on the user – not the machine builder. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide workers with a safe and healthy work environment, including the use of new and existing machines on the plant floor. If it’s not done right the first time, you’ll likely need to retrofit machines in the future to make them safer – costing you even more in terms of machine parts and production downtime. In a worst-case scenario, inadequate levels of machine safety could result in a catastrophic accident – one that might’ve been prevented with proper advance planning.

Where to Start

Before beginning any expansion, it’s important to start with a risk assessment conducted by a qualified safety engineer. A risk assessment can help you identify the interactions between humans and machines that may pose a danger – either during a machine malfunction or during normal operations. Such assessments provide an analysis of the potential dangers workers might encounter and help identify where safety improvements can be made.

Higher-complexity machines are cause for greater safety concerns, because they often have more pinch points that can “grab” an employee and cause injury. For example, robotic machines used to prepare ready-to-eat meals can be some of the more dangerous types of machines to operate because they are made to move quickly and repetitively; potentially causing serious injury if a worker steps into their path.

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