In industries with high potential risks for employees, having the right protective equipment should be an essential part of any business's safety strategy
The paper, plastics and packaging industries make up a significant segment of the UK's manufacturing sector, and between them employ about 300,000 people full time. One of the biggest priorities for all companies in this sector is employee safety.
Workers in each of these industries face potential risks – from the common dangers at all manufacturing plants (slips, trips, machines with moving parts, etc) to specific hazards such as dust in paper mills, sharp objects in packaging factories, chemicals in plastic manufacturers, and so on.
"There has 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"Professor Vincent Ho, President of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health
When it comes to implementing a successful workplace safety strategy, Professor Vincent Ho, President of the Institution of Occupational Health and Safety (IOSH), believes that company culture is key. “The overriding driver for a formal workplace safety strategy should be the moral one – while there is legislation out there to ensure a minimum level of employee safety, it’s a company’s moral duty to protect those who work for them,” he says. “There has 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.
“Businesses, from the top down, should put safety measures in place that genuinely put employees first.”
Companies shouldn’t feel, however, that workplace safety is solely about risk. Ho believes that a good safety strategy is of real value to an organisation: “There is a strong case to be made for good health and safety,” he adds. “People want to work at a place where they are protected and where corners aren’t cut. A good reputation will benefit a company in the long run.”
Effective safety equipment
In virtually all paper, packaging and plastics companies, employees are likely to be working with or around large pieces of machinery, which leads to a higher level of risk. “With this sort of machinery, it’s important to have sensors, guards, emergency cut-offs and appropriate signage to help protect workers,” explains Del Tiwana, Industry Sector Manager at RS Components. “It’s vital that all this equipment is well maintained and doing the job it was designed for.”
“You also have to consider the individual safety of each employee so that they have the right products to protect themselves while working around the premises,” he adds. “Workers need the right footwear and the correct personal protective equipment (PPE). For example, paper mills generate large volumes of dust particles, so it's vital that employees exposed to this have the correct masks in place to keep the dust out of their respiratory system.”
Another important element in protecting workers is ensuring that they use ATEX equipment, which is specially designed to be used in potentially hazardous environments. “In the packaging industry, one of the biggest risks is fire, particularly where you have paper and cardboard manufacturing,” says Tiwana. “With the dust that is created during this process, it’s important workers don't ignite this, so companies should be providing employees with ATEX equipment and specialist anti-spark tools, such as hammers and saws designed not to create sparks while in use.”
Another major risk, particularly with canning or bottling companies, is working with sharp materials. Tiwana points out that it’s vital that workers have appropriate hand and foot protection, which is often at a much higher standard than normal protective materials.
“To get all the right protective equipment in place, our team at RS visit a customer and carry out audits so that we can establish the risks and what level of protection is needed,” he explains. “We then offer a range of products/brands that meet those requirements.”
"It’s important for companies to work with distributors with a full, traceable supply chain"Del Tiwana, Industry Sector Manager, RS Components
This issue is particularly important now that new EU regulations have come into effect.
“One of the key changes is in hearing protection. We’ve enhanced our technological capabilities and we can help customers to audit their hearing requirements to the new standards,” he explains. “It’s important for companies to work with distributors with a full, traceable supply chain. Both the distributors and manufacturers of those products are accountable. We can only sell products which conform to these regulations.”
This is an area that IOSH’s Vincent Ho also feels strongly about. “Unfortunately, one of the knock-on effects of the 2008 recession was an increase in poor buying choices when it came to safety equipment,” he explains. “People would find products such as hard hats sold for half the normal price on the internet and saw it as a way of helping their company save money.
“In general, where 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 and they will do their due diligence,” he adds. “However, when it comes to gloves, hard hats, face masks and other small items, there is a tendency to go with the cheapest option, but the wrong safety equipment could cost a life and end up hugely damaging a business. We’ve seen plenty of situations on construction sites where inappropriate safety wear has been responsible for terrible accidents”.
In addition to ensuring a company has the best safety equipment in place for their staff, it’s also important to look at ways to make efficiencies in the process of ordering these products. Tiwana recommends that businesses try to harmonise the brands that they use – many companies have equipment made by dozens of different brands, which can be both costly, and confusing for users.
“We can offer inventory management solutions so that there is stock available with fast delivery when new safety equipment is needed, and it can be ordered simply and quickly,” says Tiwana. “This helps reduce time wasted and also the cost to the business. If the buyer is wasting time looking around for a piece of equipment either in their own store room, or via non-approved suppliers, they can end up making a rushed decision and either spend too much money, or worse, buy the wrong equipment, which will not offer the level of protection required.”