Tag Archives: Health and Safety


If you take in the expanse of a shop floor from a high vantage point, you’ll quickly be reminded of how much coordination is required to keep the operation functioning smoothly. To the trained eye – and probably the untrained eye as well – analogies with a symphony come to mind. Just as you think you recognize the pattern in the flows of people, machines, and materials, something changes, and a new pattern emerges.

Of course, many may find this analogy to be overly romanticized. A factory can just as easily be a messy, less-than-elegantly orchestrated affair. That’s especially true when you consider the sounds more so than the sights. It’s not a symphony, it’s cacophony. It’s not elegance, it’s noise – 80 decibels’ worth in the average factory, approaching OSHA’s recommended exposure limit of 85 decibels.

A brief history

The concept of the factory as it’s known today was born in the Industrial Revolution, in the late 1700s and early 1800s. But the premise of all that turbulent innovation was always the same: find more ways to amplify human power – with water power, with steam power. And exerting power is inherently noisy.

By the early decades of the 20th century the shop floor that’s familiar to us today had largely taken form. And noise levels reached new highs. For this we can credit (and blame) the city of Milwaukee, which at the time was the world’s Silicon Valley of industrial innovation. A cluster of local manufacturers had each built an industry-leading business on an important innovation, inventing or radically improving staples of the modern shop floor – all of which added to the surging decibel levels. A few examples:

The history of the world’s response to high-noise environments and the assault on human hearing can be thought of in terms of two themes: keeping the bad sounds out, and letting the good sounds in.

A symphony of coordination is required for shop floor health and safety

The recent history of noise reduction

Although ear plugs were patented in 1884 and further refined over the following decades, historically the need for hearing protection was typically framed in terms of warfare. It wasn’t until the 1970s that industry became proactive about addressing threats to hearing on shop floors and other work sites. Today, hearing protection comes in the form of ear plugs or external ear muffs, many of which are custom-designed to address a specific noise level or to provide a variety of other benefits.

High-noise environments like shop floors also make it difficult to hear the human voice (typically 70-76 decibels), a problem that may be worsened by wearing hearing protection. Today high-noise headsets solve the problem simply and efficiently. They fit comfortably under hard hats or other protective headgear. When everyone on the shop floor is outfitted with a headset and its paired receiver/transceiver, the human voice speaks directly into the listener’s ear, in essence bypassing the noise-filled gap in between.

But while keeping harmful noise out helps prevent just one type of injury (i.e., to hearing) facilitating communication through high-noise headsets can reduce the incidence of all types of injury – from falling objects, from defective equipment, from collisions, from areas of loose footing. That’s because those headsets will ensure that all warnings will be heard, whether hours in advance or in a matter of seconds before the potentially dangerous situation occurs.

The day after tomorrow

A few years ago Tesla put out a video ad portraying the workings on the shop floor in one of its factories. The ad features slightly speeded-up video of “160 high precision robots” (according to words briefly flashed on the screen) in various stages of assembling a car. While there’s also a brief nod to “Over 3,000 skilled technicians,” the robots are clearly the stars. The sense of harmonized movement is almost mesmerizing, and pretty impressive.

But the entire audio track consists of the hard pulsing song Perfect Day, by the Constellations. There’s not a single snippet of ambient sound from the shop floor. The ad may well give the unconscious impression that robots work virtually silently – and perhaps raises the question of whether high noise levels in a factory might not be inevitable.

But robots are not a solution to the communication barriers found on shop floors. Robots may or not be less noisy than other machines, but it’s not other machines that are being replaced by robots; it’s human labor. Robots will continue to work alongside conveyors, overhead cranes, roller mills, and the like for the foreseeable future, and each of these will continue to generate high noise levels.

Technology is indeed the solution to the problem of keeping shop floors safe by enabling reliable communication. But that technology comes in the form of traditional hearing protection coupled with high-noise headsets – not as glamorous as robots, perhaps, but each on the leading edge in their own way.

Author: Rick Farrell, President, Plant-Tours.com

Rick is North America’s foremost expert in improving manufacturing group communication, education, training and group hospitality processes. He has over 40 years of group hospitality experience, most recently serving as President of Plant-Tours.com for the last 18 years.  He has provided consulting services with the majority of Fortune 500 industrial corporations improving group communication dynamics of all types in manufacturing environments.

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The industrial and manufacturing sector is most affected by workplace accidents. Statistics show that at least 100,000 workers in the manufacturing industry are victims of job-related injuries every year. That’s why a company needs to have a culture that promotes safety. Here are a few tips that can help increase the safety of everyone in the company:

1. Always report any unsafe conditions.

As an employee, you get to interact with the equipment in the facility regularly. Therefore, you can know when something can lead to an accident. In such a case, report the matter to the supervisor. Supervisors are obligated to provide employees with a safe working environment, so they will take action to address the problem.

For example, a wet floor may not seem like a big deal on paper, but it can lead to slips and falls. Report the problem no matter how small it looks to make the working environment safe for everyone. As a supervisor, encourage your employees to report these unsafe conditions instead of terming them as small or frivolous.

2. Ensure Proper Usage of Equipment

Most industrial work-related injuries are a result of misuse of the tools and machines. As an employee, you should always use a machine for its intended purpose and nothing else. Most manufacturers provide instructions for usage. Use the instructions to operate the machinery.

Furthermore, always keep the working tools clean and inspect them before using. For example, a loose bolt on a wheel of a lorry may be a recipe for disaster. Checking the truck before leaving will ensure you notice the problem and fix it.

3. Always Wear Protective Gear

In a manufacturing firm, it is only logical to always have your PPEs on while working. Wear a helmet, gumboots, and mask if need be. As an employer, ensure that no employee in the company operates without wearing their protective gear. Don’t forget to inspect your equipment before every shift to ensure they are okay for maximum protection.

4. Don’t Overwork Your Employees.

Every industrial and manufacturing firm uses electrical tools. These tools require alertness, and a few mistakes can lead to fatal injuries. When someone is too tired, they are prone to making mistakes, and these mistakes can lead to serious work-related injuries.

For that reason, ensure that your workers take breaks throughout the day to maintain alertness. A brief break can ensure your employees return to their job alert and refreshed to complete the day.

5. Keep the working space organized and exits clear

When you keep the working space organized and clear, the probability of work-related injuries reduces drastically. A disorganized working area will limit the space you should use to lift heavy objects the right way. Additionally, keeping the exits clear will make sure you have somewhere to escape to in case of an emergency.

For David Rowland, Head of Marketing at Engage EHS, any business person worth their salt will have an in-depth knowledge of health and safety policy and practice. This is because health and safety is not only an end in itself, it is a means to an end towards a more efficient business that has an improved bottom line and greater brand loyalty amongst consumers.

Remember, safety starts with you. Therefore, be sure to keep these tips in mind while working in an industrial or manufacturing environment.

This article was written by Holly Shaw. Holly is a freelance industrial writer who focuses on quality industrial equipment and modern manufacturing. Holly is currently writing for SummitMT.


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