Manufacturing Safety by the Numbers (part 1 of 2)

Neil HartleyHealth & Safety Issues/TrendsLeave a Comment

picture of a manufacturing facility

It’s our contention that, along with the construction sector, manufacturing will be key to leading the UK out of recession after the coronavirus lockdown ends. It’s our hope that this return to work and growth will be achieved without compromising (non-coronavirus related) worker safety.

So how has the manufacturing sector performed compared to other industry sectors over recent years?

Before answering that, it should be noted that the ‘manufacturing’ sector is extremely diverse ranging from the process industries of chemicals and petrochemicals to the discrete industries of food production and semiconductor manufacture. That makes generalisations difficult, thereby, necessitating a deep sector dive to extract meaning.

Firstly, let’s look at the manufacturing sector and its two major components, process and discrete manufacturing, to see how they compare against the safety performance of all industry sectors combined.

safety performance in manufacturing vs all industries

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This shows annual fatality and non-fatal injury data averaged over the past 5 years in comparison with the benchmark of the equivalent all industry sector rates over the same period – the 0% point (representing a fatality rate of 0.44 per 100,000 workers and a non-fatal injury rate of 275 per 100,000 employees).

This is different to how we normally present this data but hopefully it’s clearer and in a more readily digestible format. For example, all manufacturing has a fatality rate +66% higher than the benchmark of all industry sectors (all manufacturing has 0.73 fatalities per 100,000 workers vs 0.44 for all industry sectors). Process manufacturing has a non-fatal injury rate 30% lower than that of the benchmark (192 non-fatal injuries per 100,000 employees vs 275 for all industry sectors). Bars going left show better safety performance, those going to the right signify worse safety performance.

For the remainder of this post we’ll focus on discrete manufacturing as that’s where the greatest number of manufacturing workers are and, consequently, the vast majority of fatalities (95 out of the 105 manufacturing fatalities over the 5 year period) and non-fatal injuries (all but 1,222 out of 62,613 non-fatal manufacturing injuries over the same time period).

Further, despite contributing only around 8% of the UK workforce, discrete manufacturing accounts for 13% of the annual fatalities and around 16% of non-fatal injuries, hence, making it worthy of further scrutiny.

The following chart shows the safety performance of discrete manufacturing by sub-sector following the basic SIC codes. In this case the benchmark (the 0% point) represents all discrete manufacturing (0.66 fatalities per 100,000 workers and 499 non-fatal injuries per 100,000 employees) so we can see which sub-sectors have better safety records than the whole of discrete manufacturing (to the left) and which have worse safety records (to the right).

There are many sub-sectors within discrete manufacturing and much diversity of products and manufacturing processes. To help navigate what is a bit of an eye test, each bar has a roll-over to show sub-sector, the rate being measured and its value.

Many sub-sectors have better safety performance than the whole of discrete manufacturing (leather, tobacco, textiles, beverages, computer, pharma etc.) whereas wood, basic metals, non-metallic minerals and fabricated metals have a consistently worse performance.

Food products stands out as having a better safety performance in terms of the fatality rate but a much worse performance in terms of non-fatal injuries. What does that tell us? More on that in part 2 of this post.

The HSE developed a manufacturing sector strategy for 2012-15 which grouped sub-sectors into one of four categories based on risk and the ability to impact safety performance based on other criteria common to each group. As you would expect based on the above chart, basic metals and food products (well, ‘dairy, meat & poultry’) fell into the riskiest category (Group A) worthy of “proactive intervention/inspection” while leather products and textiles fell into the least risky category (Group D) warranting only reactive intervention.

Note that ‘other food products’, i.e. those not related to dairy/meat/poultry were categorised as second least risky (Group C). However, more than half of the food products fatalities in the past 5 years have been in these ‘other food products’.

While the strategy was developed quite a while ago, it still stands as the most detailed manufacturing sector commentary on the HSE website. Specific Group A, basic metals and food products safety notes taken from the strategy document are as follows:

Group A – “Underlying causes of incidents are often failings in corporate risk management and practices in relation to higher hazard activities. Although risk control may be unsatisfactory, the hazards are generally well recognised by industry, as are the requirements for effective risk assessment and controls.”

Basic Metals – “Inherently hazardous work. Investigations continue to identify poor performance from failures to translate commitment through management systems and organisational structures.”

Food Products – “Main issues are associated with manufacture of dairy products and meat and poultry products – particularly high RIDDOR injury rates, suggesting this sub-sector needs to implement appropriate health and safety management controls.”

Regardless of the inherently risky nature of the manufacturing processes, the need to implement/enforce/tighten-up management systems and controls is common within Group A sub-sectors.

Having looked at the average safety performances over the past 5 years, is there anything to be learned by looking at the last data point (2018/19) against the 5 year averages? Will we see progress in the Group A sectors? Accepting the strategy dates (2012-15) don’t align with the current 5 year data set (2014/15 through 2018/19), you would still hope to see forward progress…

chart showing how the 2018/19 safety performance of the manufacturing sector compared with the previous 5 years

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In terms of the non-fatal injury rates, discrete manufacturing overall shows some slight improvement in 2018/19 vs the previous 5-year average (only -1%) but food products and basic metals are slightly worse.

In terms of the fatality rates, basic metals had zero fatalities in 2018/19 (a 100% improvement over the 5-year average) but the sector as a whole had 26% more fatalities and food products 81% more fatalities.

Admittedly the number of fatalities is a finite number (in 2018/19 there were 26 fatalities in discrete manufacturing vs a 5-year average of 21 fatalities each year) making this kind of comparison somewhat subject to dramatic fluctuations. However, the non-fatal injury rate is essentially unchanged suggesting that underlying issues persist and that workers are no safer today than they were 5 years ago.

Is this the manifestation of the impenetrable statistical barrier or is there still much that can be achieved through tighter management systems and controls? Is enough being done in terms of contractor controls? What impact can technology have to improve safety performance across all the sub-sectors? What can be learned from the causes of fatalities?

Look out for the second part of this post where we’ll try to answer these questions.

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