Every day, a mechanic should arrive at work focused on how he'll piece together an engine after repairing the flywheel rather than the dangers that come with the endeavor.
Mechanics and manufacturing employees are tasked with some of the most daunting repairs that stretch them to not only their limits mentally, but physically as well. With thousands of pounds of metal hanging above workers, sharp tools in use and repetitive motions a mainstay technique, it's clear more safety and precaution is needed to prevent some of the more foreseeable incidents.
Lowdown on the automotive industry
Automation has largely made workplaces safer, though automobile manufacturing in particular still produces considerably high injury rates. Nine out of every 100 workers specializing in body and trailer manufacturing suffered injuries in 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Roughly 6 out of every 100 full-time employees were hurt in general vehicle assembly jobs in the same year, while 5 in every 100 concentrating on part-creation experienced the same fate. Moreover, 3 in every 100 incidents occur during repairs.
While these numbers may not look that high on the surface, they are mostly unnecessary risks. Repetitive motion and overexertion represent a large portion of these workers' compensation claims, and even being struck by an object is unusually high on the list for an industry so keyed in on computerized processes.
The real risks in the industry lie within the nature of the job itself, according to the International Labour Organization. A car jack malfunctions and whomever is underneath is injured; an employee lugs a heavy vehicle part across the warehouse, only to wake up with a strained back muscle the next day. Some may see these instances as unavoidable, but the truth is that clever planning and better granular insight into daily operations can lead to a far safer workplace.
Finding the risks
Reducing on-site accidents is no easy feat—it requires transparency into the data gathered by safety managers and data analysis after that. The ILO highlighted the common types of threats employees face daily:
- Falls from ladders or higher levels.
- Injuries resulting from equipment malfunctions or routine tasks.
- Listening to loud noises over 90 a-weighted decibels for extended periods of time.
- Damage suffered from welding or radiation techniques.
- Working in extreme hot or cold temperatures.
- Exposure to fumes from exhaust, cleaning materials, adhesives, etc., through lung or skin contact.
- Touching or ingesting corrosive or toxic materials.
- Strains, ligament tears and other internal bodily harm resulting from repetitive motion or overexertion.
Targeted efforts should be made to oversee potential hazards in these four specific areas. Furthermore, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago found 71 percent of all workers in automotive manufacturing have suffered an injury at one point in time. But the authors suggested the BLS could be undershooting its own data on workplace injuries in the sector as some companies pay out of pocket for employees' injuries, as well as the workers' compensation on top of that, which skews the numbers considerably.
When it's all said and done, it's not a far stretch to say the job that served as the backbone of the American economy for a lengthy stretch of time is one of the most dangerous occupations a person can have.
Building a preventative safety culture
First thing's first—review internal data aggregated by the aforementioned four categories. Without the right Health and Safety software, it can be difficult to identify trends in injury rates. Just because the national average suggests overexertion is a leading cause of workplace incidents doesn't mean the same holds true for a specific worksite. Safety managers should leverage statistical analysis in an effort to weed out the most common—and expensive—injuries suffered at their own workplaces.
"Training can help employees diagnose dangerous situations."
The ILO reported that simple preventative measures, like providing gloves for employees working with chemicals or putting up rail guards in certain parts of the facility, can help prevent incidents. But perhaps the organization's most important advice is to educate workers on how to identify injury-prone situations before they occur.
Training is best done through a safety manager delivering sessions not only to teach proper safety habits, but also to help workers pinpoint unsafe actions and other clues that suggest an accident will take place. By gaining granular insight into actionable internal data, safety managers can properly structure lessons to better equip employees to practice safe habits.
Moving forward, organizations can use injury reports not only to reduce quantity, but also to improve upon the costs the company incurs due to preventable accidents. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration estimated businesses lose up to $60 billion per year through productivity downtime caused by workplace injuries, which means devoting time to understanding and adopting a preventative safety culture is not just the right thing to do—it also makes business sense.