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) are a significant part of the country’s manufacturing sector, producing unbranded goods to be sold on by other companies. As you’d expect, when employees are in close proximity to automated machinery, moving parts and electrical devices, they must be suitably protected.
According to Jimmy Quinn, President of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), workplace safety should be at the heart of a company’s business strategy. “Safety and health are key to the success and sustainability of businesses. If you look after your people, the returns on this investment are extremely significant,” he says.
"Safety and health are key to the success and sustainability of businesses. If you look after your people, the returns on this investment are extremely significant"Jimmy Quinn, President, 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. 

Quinn says the COVID-19 pandemic has focused attention on health and safety for the whole workforce. “Around the world, our members have helped their businesses and the clients they work with implement measures which ensure the risks of virus transmission are managed.

“They are also managing the risks of mental health and wellbeing and, with many people working remotely, ensuring employees aren’t at risk of suffering with musculoskeletal issues.”

Employee safety
Richard Graham, 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"Richard Graham, 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.”

IOSH emphasizes the importance of good operational practices in maintaining a safe and healthy working environment. Safety should be designed in from the outset in all manufacturing processes, they say.

Quinn believes that one of the lessons from the pandemic has been the importance of having trained safety people. “As businesses learn to manage the risks of COVID-19, there has been growing recognition of the importance of the role occupational safety and health professionals play,” he says.

Graham 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 Graham and Quinn agree is a cause for concern is the desire to cut costs when purchasing safety equipment. Since the 2008 recession the IOSH 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"Richard Graham, 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,” Ho 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.”

Graham believes that the price of safety equipment should never be the only 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.”