Manufacturing Safety by the Numbers (part 2 of 2)

Neil HartleyHealth & Safety Issues/TrendsLeave a Comment

picture of a manufacturing facility

In the first part of this two-part post we looked at the raw numbers for safety performance in the manufacturing sector with specific focus on discrete manufacturing.

We noted that discrete manufacturing in the UK has an average fatality rate over the past 5 years that is 50% higher than that for all industry sectors and a non-fatal injury rate 81% higher. We also looked at the sub-sectors within discrete manufacturing with the best safety performance (textiles, leather goods etc.) and those with the worst – in particular food products (dairy/meat/poultry) and basic metals both of which were highlighted in the HSE strategy review (2012-2015) as highest risk and requiring “proactive intervention/inspection”.

While the HSE highlighted the dairy/meat/poultry part of food products as the most risky, we showed that most of the fatalities in food products occurred in ‘other food products’.

We also looked at how discrete manufacturing as a whole, and these highest risk sectors in particular, fared in 2018/19 versus the prior 5-year period to see if progress had been made. Unfortunately, the sector as a whole recorded worse fatality rates in 2018/19 and the non-fatal injury rate was essentially flat compared with the 5-year average.

We ended that post with these questions:

  • 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?
  • Why is the fatality rate in food products below that of all discrete manufacturing when the non-fatal injury rate is significantly higher?

Let’s start by seeing if the data can uncover answers to these questions.

First, fatality causes. The following two pie charts show the top 5 fatality causes for manufacturing and all industries over the last 5 years (2014/15 through 2018/19).

pie chart showing causes of UK fatality worker injuries

pie chart showing causes of fatal injury in the UK manufacturing sector

Four of the top 5 causes are common and, whereas, the manufacturing sector has a broader spread of causes (as demonstrated by the greater % of ‘other causes’) it’s difficult to draw conclusions based on this data that would inform decisions specific to the manufacturing sector. Indeed a recommendation for the use of more and more specific data to address the overall increase in deaths caused by falls from height would benefit manufacturing as well as all other industry sectors.

One of the anomalies we highlighted in part 1 of this post was the fact that fatality rates in food products over the past 5 years were half those for all discrete manufacturing yet the non-fatal injury rate for food products was double that of discrete manufacturing. How can that be? It seems illogical.

The answer may lie in the data collected. Fatality rates cover all workers (employees and the self-employed) whereas the non-fatal injury rates are only for employees. For that to be the reason behind the anomaly, there would have to be a disproportionately high number of self-employed people working in food products (and counting towards the fatality rates), and those self-employed workers would have to be working more safely than their employee counterparts.

The reality is that food products employ around 5% self-employed out of their total worker population versus 8% across the whole of discrete manufacturing which doesn’t help explain the anomaly. Also, if the self-employed are excluded from the fatality rates, there is only a slight uptick in the food products fatality rate from an average of 0.37 per 100,000 workers to 0.39 per 100,000 employees. The anomaly persists. Please leave a comment below if you can propose a hypothesis.

However we dig into the historical data it only tells us where we’ve been, it doesn’t inform us of the specific changes we need to make to improve safety performance. Yes, we can see the overall performance has not improved but the available data is extremely limited for informed decision making. It really is like trying to drive a car looking through the rear view mirror.

So what can be done to improve safety performance in manufacturing? Technology runs through each of these as does culture – if you feel your business needs a health and safety culture reset you will find some good pointers in our ebook, “Changing the Health and Safety Culture in Your Organisation”:

Implementing effective health and safety management controls – as the HSA identified, much needs to be done in this area. Even with a relatively low percentage use of contractors today, ensuring workers work to safe practices is the foundation of improved safety performance. Easy, cost-neutral implementation of technology-based systems (such as permit-to-work) to replace outdated paper-based processes will yield rapid improvements. An increasing usage of contractors as a percentage of all workers is likely as automation continues apace making these controls imperative.

Automation – automation in manufacturing has always been on the rise. Cobots and robots will contribute positively to safety performance albeit with a detrimental effect on employment figures. The long term effect of Covid-19 on these automation trends is to be seen although it’s not difficult to imagine (in any sector) that replacing humans with technology to better insulate businesses from unforeseen circumstances will become the norm.

Data – while the publicly available safety data is lacking for informed decision making, each manufacturing company has their own data, or ability to collect their won data, around incidents which can then be used to predict/prevent further incidents occurring. We covered the use of predictive analytics in safety in slightly more detail at the beginning of the year.

Here at Banyard Solutions we have several clients using e-permits in the manufacturing sector. To discuss how we can help deliver improved safety performance in your business, please contact us here.

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