How To Make Your Manufacturing Business Safer for Everyone

The Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy has called on the manufacturing sector to reduce its rates of fatalities and serious claims.

This is an industry with the eighth-highest fatality rate and second-highest serious claim frequency rate in Australia – more than nine claims per million hours worked in 2019-20. The main cause of fatalities and injuries are:

  • Vehicle incidents
  • Being hit by falling objects
  • Muscular stress while lifting, carrying, or placing objects.

Manufacturing businesses can always improve their approaches to minimising risks, and we offer these tips as refreshers and updates.

Dealing with hazardous chemicals

As an employer, you should make sure the use, handling, storage, and transportation of hazardous chemicals happens safely and without risking health. Australian workplaces use up to 40,000 different chemicals, says the OHS Reps union website.

Here’s Safe Work Australia’s national guide to classifying hazardous chemicals.

Factor in these approaches to deal with hazardous substances in your workplace:

  • Create, review and update your action plan for health and safety reps
  • Know the legal standards, particularly relating to maximum exposure levels such as for chemical fumes
  • Be aware of the health impacts of exposure to hazardous chemicals, including acute and chronic effects
  • Understand the effects of exposure to more than one chemical or with other hazards such as heat or noise
  • Understand how particular chemicals can affect the body through poisoning, corroding, irritating or sensitising
  • Appreciate severe toxic effects can be mutagenic, carcinogenic, or teratogenic
  • Learn how chemical exposure works through its form, physical properties, how it enters the body and the body’s reaction after exposure
  • Identify hazardous chemicals or airborne particles. These can be dust (inhaled), liquids (absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream), vapours (inhaled), mists (which irritate eyes/skin), and gases (inhaled, or could be flammable or explosive).

Manual handling

Manually handling is when a worker uses force to lift, push, pull, carry or restrain an object. Sprains and strains are the most common injuries overall. You can minimise these risks:

  • Ensure they abide by the legal weight limits for lifting
  • Ask them to use back braces and lifting belts
  • Rotate workers through tasks to reduce repetitive strain injuries
  • Investigate how to make workstations and seating safer
  • Roll out appropriate and safer work systems, information, training, supervision and where needed, personal protective equipment
  • Encourage those with sedentary jobs to take five-minute activity breaks at their workstations or elsewhere every 40 to 50 minutes.

Check out Safe Work Australia’s Principles of Good Work Design booklet for more tips.

Minimising noise and hearing damage

Check your state or territories’ workplace health and safety regulations for noise exposure limits – the key figures to look out for are 85 to 140 decibels. The higher the decibels, the shorter time your staff should be exposed to it. This site allows you to turn the dial for insights on how increasing decibels impacts an acceptable exposure period.

Reduce the noise levels in your workplace in this sequence:

  • Engineer controls to move the equipment to a more isolated spot or soundproofing the room
  • Rotate staff between quieter areas
  • Run the equipment when fewer people are about
  • Ensure your staff and visitors have quality and fitted personal hearing protection.

As well, build in regular hearing tests of staff, and regularly monitor noise levels and work practices to improve your management of this danger.

Managing heat issues

While there are no regulations for workplace standards for maximum temperatures, the risks of heat stress, and the greater likelihood of accidents make it a hazard. Audit your workplace to monitor and evaluate heat stress areas and work with staff to make conditions more comfortable.

Tips to manage heat issues in your workplace:

  • Install fans or air conditioning or ensure good natural ventilation
  • Insulate or shield heat sources as well as roofs and walls
  • Reduce window area and heat transfer from them with reflective film or blinds
  • Duct hot exhausts to outside
  • Mechanise some of the tasks, where possible
  • Ensure your work vehicles are air-conditioned.

Reducing the risks of vibration

Forklift and heavy machine operators exposed to heavy vibrations have an increased risk of indigestion. As well, research shows women in such full-time work are prone to preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and gestational hypertension. Therefore, a good practice is to identify pregnant women and move them to other jobs. It makes sense all round to minimise vibration for all staff:

  • Invest in non-vibrating tools and products to eliminate the risk
  • Substitute with low-vibration tools
  • Use cushioning, spring grips or rubber shock absorbers, and gloves to muffle kick-back
  • Install ergonomically designed seats that absorb vibration
  • Retrofit engineering controls, including dampeners, insulated mountings, or sinking the machine into a pit
  • Regularly maintain tools, vehicles and machinery
  • Rotate job tasks and enforce regular rest breaks
  • Train staff to raise awareness of the issues and how they can prevent vibration-induced health problems.

Protecting your staff

There’s more you can do once you’ve minimised the above risks — choose the best-fit workers’ compensation insurance policy for your unique business. Such a policy will help pay for injured employees’ immediate and ongoing medical costs and covers part of their wages while they’re unable to work for you. Lower your costs with a continuous improvement approach to risk management.

Employer’s liability insurance is an extra layer of protection should a staff member sue your business over an injury. This policy can help cover lawyers’ fees, court costs, and settlements whether you’re at fault. We can customise a policy package to suit your business.