Workplace accidents can be devastating to manufacturers, so a sensible safety strategy and collaborative relationship with suppliers is essential
The UK’s Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) make a significant contribution to the UK’s overall manufacturing sector, producing unbranded goods to be sold on by other companies. As with any manufacturer, where employees work around automated machinery, moving parts and electrical devices, employers must protect their workforce from the risks.
According to Graham Parker, President, Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), a good workplace safety strategy starts at the top of an organisation. “The key to putting health and safety at the core of a business is to lead from the top down,” he says. “Board-level individuals need to see the importance of workplace safety and promote policies both through actions and funding. For example, CFOs are not going to know the individual intricacies of particular safety equipment, but they should be prepared to allow a budget to pay for equipment when employees ask for it.”
"Board-level individuals need to see the importance of workplace safety and promote policies both through actions and funding"Graham Parker, Institute of Occupational Safety and Health
There are plenty of reasons to persuade manufacturers to invest in health and safety – legislation, which if broken could lead to punitive fines, potential personal lawsuits from injured employees, not to mention the damage to a company’s reputation. Parker believes, however, that these should not be primary motives for good workplace safety: “The overriding need for a formal workplace safety strategy is moral,” he says. “There ought to be a culture of care where health and safety is a priority – almost any business will claim that this is the case, but the truth is shown in actions.”
Brendan Free, Industry Sector Manager at RS, agrees. “Workplace safety is extremely important in the OEM sector – the companies in this sector are ultimately responsible for the employees’ safety, so they need to take this very seriously,” he explains. “This is a sector with a number of risks, so it’s well worth the investment in safety equipment and training if it prevents a serious accident.
"The OEM sector has a number of risks, so it's well worth investing in safety equipment if it prevents a serious accident"Brendan Free, Industry Sector Manager, RS
“Typical risks that employees at OEM manufacturers come up against are working with machinery and also electricity – if engineers are repairing equipment and the power is switched back on there could be serious consequences,” he adds. “As such, some of the most common safety devices we provide customers with are lock-out switches that stop colleagues from accidentally turning on a machine under repair.”
One of the common problems that the IOSH’s Graham Parker finds with manufacturers is a tendency towards knee-jerk spending as a result of an incident. “There’s a real issue where organisations tend to just throw money at the problem,” he says. “They rush out and buy equipment to try to offer protection in the future, but in some cases they should examine what in their business caused the problem in the first place and then consider what sort of process or operational changes they could make in the first instance to remove risk.”
Brendan Free is a firm believer in working collaboratively with OEMs so that they can find solutions that actually meet their needs. “We try to work closely with companies to identify the specific risks that they face in their business and then offer safety equipment that protects their employees,” he says. “We have one customer who we provided with a particular voltage testing device, which they tried and approved, but they wanted to change one of the leads in the box to a higher specification. We were happy to reconfigure that through our trade counter because it meant the customer had the level of equipment they needed.”
Poor buying choices
Another area of workplace safety that Free and Parker agree is a cause for concern is the desire to cut costs when purchasing safety equipment. Since the 2008 recession Parker has seen more companies making poor buying choices, particularly around Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as hard hats, gloves and boots.
"Quality is the number-one priority when it comes to safety equipment"Brendan Free, Industry Sector Manager, RS
“When a company is purchasing a highly expensive piece of plant equipment, they will make sure it’s the real thing, that it meets safety standards,” Parker says. “But when it comes to gloves, hard hats, face masks and other smaller items, there is a tendency to go with the cheapest option. The wrong safety equipment could cost a life and end up hugely damaging a business.
“We’ve seen plenty of situations where inappropriate safety wear has been responsible for terrible accidents.”
Free believes that the price of safety equipment should never be the first consideration. “It’s simple. Quality is the number one priority,” he states. “Cost is not irrelevant, but should only come into the equation once you’ve established that you are comparing between equipment of equal quality.
“Our sector teams understand the industry as a whole, what’s happening in terms of legislation affecting safety and also the individual needs of particular manufacturers – that helps us collaborate with companies to find the safety equipment to fit their actual needs,” he adds. “We also work closely with equipment manufacturers to understand new technology so that we can make OEMs aware of better solutions as they come onto the market.”