3 Ways to Keep Up with Manufacturing Safety in 2020

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The US manufacturing industry continues to grow despite an increasingly service-based and online economy. According to the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, capital growth in manufacturing will exceed the general economy throughout the rest of 2019. It’s a positive outlook for many companies that manufacture goods within the United States, but it’s only a small part of the story.

However, for many companies, the current trade war requires moving to areas with more affordable tariff laws. That means away from China—but not to the United States, either. In the case of Apple, countries in Southeast Asia such as Vietnam and India may be the new proving ground for assembling iPhones, MacBook Pros, and monitor stands.

What does this mean for manufacturing safety in 2020? Employing low-skill workers, especially where regulatory standards are different from the United States, invites a new spectrum of safety concerns. Ensuring proper training, executing safety inspections, and preventing on-the-job injuries across multiple, global locations can be a hurdle without the proper infrastructure.

Even if a manufacturer only does business in the US, the cost of worker injury, mishandled machines, and poor regulatory compliance can be much higher. According to the National Safety Council, the cost for each medically consulted injury in 2017 was $39,000, with more than $161 billion lost overall. Meanwhile, OSHA fines continue to increase regularly, placing a hefty premium on inconsistent compliance.

The keys to staying ahead of manufacturing safety in 2020 are the same regardless of where your operations take place:

  1. Define clear internal standards that meet or exceed regulatory requirements
  2. Enforce your standards consistently and correct issues immediately.
  3. Maintain clear safety oversight across all locations.


1. Define internal standards

Define internal standards

While every company does things a little bit differently, safety standards tend to be pretty similar. However, that doesn’t mean you should expect employees to know every rule and regulation by heart. This is especially true for manufacturers with globally distributed operations. Simply put, some part of the world are laxer when it comes to worker safety.

To keep workers safe and costs low, define internal safety standards and auditing practices. Your internal protocols can be modeled on existing regulations, but it’s usually better to exceed the bare minimum by a considerable margin. In some parts of the world, there may not be financial penalties for what OSHA would consider a fineable offense, but worker injury is still a possibility. Don’t ignore safety best practices from regulatory organizations and experts—even if there isn’t a price tag attached.

For example, injuries from manually lifting heavy items are among the most common in the United States, but you’re unlikely to receive a fine if a worker throws out their back lifting something they shouldn’t have. Bearing that in mind, OSHA guidelines advise that lifting objects 50 lbs. or greater should be done with two people. For your internal regulations, you could lower this threshold to 40 lbs. and require lifting belts for any object over 30 lbs.

Make it clear what’s expected of frontline workers and managers, and be sure to make reference materials available. Worker training is the first step, but managers need to be prepared to reinforce a positive safety culture every day. Ensure that team leaders are aligned with the company’s internal standards and can reference them if the need arises.

2. Enforce your standards

Enforce your standards

Enforcing compliance is everything in manufacturing safety. While it’s important that workers wear the prescribed PPE, it’s equally important that local managers are ready to enforce that de facto “dress code,” too. Give your managers the tools to report incidents and understand the results of safety audits.

When issues first arise, instead of targeting noncompliant locations with “surprise inspections,” frame safety audits as a collaborative exercise in making the workplace safer. Use mobile forms that incorporate action plans to highlight noncompliance and make corrections, and ensure that auditors are prepared to demonstrate the proper procedure.

Using automated forms also gives auditors the ability to connect their tasks with the back office via workflows. Instead of waiting days or weeks to receive and inspection result and assign follow-up corrections, behind-the-scenes workflows can automatically send notifications to the responsible people and set up a new task with a deadline. This both saves time and keeps auditors focused on what’s important: keeping workers safe.

Be sure not to overload your auditors or managers with reams of paperwork, disorganized forms, or unwieldy software. While it’s critical to keep everyone on the same page, safety tends to suffer when that “page” is a million-cells-long spreadsheet. Stay proactive, keep instructions straightforward, and use your auditing teams to maintain a clear picture of how well your safety standards are being followed.

3. Maintain clear safety oversight

Maintain clear safety oversight

An ad-hoc, surface-level safety program will only get you so far. Reporting incidents, improving compliance, and correcting issues will improve worker injury rates and costs, but it won’t give you the macro-level view you need to improve across all locations.

According to Safety Management: A Comprehensive Approach to Developing a Sustainable System (2012), all safety audits should answer four questions:

  1. Does the program cover all regulatory and industry best practices?
  2. Are the program requirements being met?
  3. Is there documented proof of compliance?
  4. Is employee training effective—can and do they apply specific safe behaviors?

With these goals in mind, think about your auditing initiatives. Are you answering these questions positively, or is it time to revise your safety program? The most valuable asset you have in maintaining safety oversight is observational data. If you can’t rely on the depth, speed, or accuracy of your safety data, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to attempt long-term oversight in the first place.

When you look at your safety dashboards and reports, look for trends that indicate both improvements and downturns. Use charts, graphs, and calculations to create cross-sections of your collected data and observe changes over time. Where is worker compliance decreasing? Where are on-the-job incidents increasing? Use these insights to reinforce your safety initiatives.

If you take action based on insights drawn from longitudinal safety data, ensure that you continue to gather consistent data while your new program takes effect. You’ll be able to understand how your initiatives affected the issue, pivot to improve it further, and forecast future developments.

Form.com can help your organization stay ahead of the curve in 2020 with the most powerful forms automation solutions on the market. Get in touch with a solutions expert today to learn how Form.com can create a fully customized manufacturing safety solution to keep your workers safe and costs low.


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