The human cost of occupational accidents is vast. Worker safety is a fundamental human need and requirement in industrial settings. It protects workers, prevents unnecessary downtime and satisfies standards compliance.

However, plant-floor safety long was viewed as a costly obligation that added little value to operations. Today, best-in-class manufacturers realize that combining employee behavior, procedures and technology enables them to go far beyond simple compliance to deliver improved productivity and dramatically lower injury rates.

Every manufacturer's approach to safety is unique and dependent on factors ranging from vertical market, company size and operations, potential hazards and regional safety standards. Looking beyond the makeup of a company's safety programs and examining the larger trends of the best performers can provide valuable insights into what can be accomplished when safety is implemented holistically, with consideration to a manufacturer's larger operations.

The Aberdeen Group, in three separate surveys, showed that manufacturing executives used four key performance indicators to measure safety performance:

  • Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)
  • Repeat accident rate
  • Injury frequency rate
  • Unscheduled asset downtime

The survey found that best-in-class manufacturers, defined as the top 20 percent of aggregate performance scorers, achieve 5 to 7 percent higher OEE, 2 to 4 percent less unscheduled downtime and less than half the injury rate of average performers. These higher-performing companies also experienced far fewer workplace accidents compared to average performers – 1 in 2,000 employees versus 1 in 111 employees.

Best-in-class manufacturers share a common set of best practices that can be grouped into three core elements of any safety program: culture (behavioral), compliance (procedural) and capital (technical).

Each of these safety pillars is critical and dependent on the other. A company that builds a strong safety culture, for example, can only go so far without complying with standards and investing in capital improvements. Likewise, manufacturers can make significant investments in capital improvements and safety technologies and procedures, but those investments only go so far if management doesn't embed safety into the cultural DNA of the company.

As an additional challenge, the knowledge necessary to improve each of the pillars often resides in disparate functional areas. For example, while EHS likely implements policies and procedures, they may not include documentation around safeguarding on new machinery. Engineers are focused on designing machinery systems, but they may not consider involving EHS, and sometimes are unable to secure funding for compliant safeguarding systems and controls. Communicating and collaborating across functional groups is essential for a comprehensive approach to safety.