The manufacturing industry is undergoing steady growth and momentum as economic activity continues to expand. In fact, there are a multitude of exciting changes on the horizon, including lean operations, improved automation, reshoring, technology and innovation, and more.
But with OSHA regulations becoming increasingly stringent, manufacturers need to make sure warehouse safety remains top-of-mind as the economy expands and productivity demands increase. OSHA’s top warehouse citations (e.g., forklifts, hazard communication, electrical, wiring methods/system design, etc.) can result in financial penalties up to $7,000 for non-serious violations and $70,000 for repeat offenders. Aside from the financial costs, the human costs of an unsafe operation are staggering. The number of people injured or killed every year may increase as the economy continues to heat up.
So what are some ways manufacturers can increase warehouse safety – both now and in the future? Here’s a look at 3 areas for forward-thinking organizations to consider:
Industrial Internet of Things
As noted in a recent Accenture report, the most conservative estimates place spending on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) at $500 billion worldwide by 2020. “More optimistic predictions of the value created by the IIoT range as high as $15 trillion of global GDP by 2030,” says Accenture.
What this tells us is that companies will increasingly look to the IIoT for more efficient, productive, and intelligent industrial operations. One example of how the IIoT might also pave the way for increased safety can be seen in the video below:
Wearables such as Google Glass could lead to not only improved efficiency, but to increased material handling as well. For example, the video showcases a forklift “malfunction detected” and instructs the operator to “proceed to the maintenance area.” While the Retail Innovation article on Google Glass in the warehouse notes “the technology isn’t quite ready yet,” it also states “as battery life improves and the technology matures, it is almost certain that this will be in widespread use across retail.”
Automation in manufacturing is not a new concept. Already much of the repetitive and high-precision work in large factories has been taken over by industrial robots, who have high computing capabilities and a level of accuracy unmatched by their human counterparts.
But one of the biggest benefits of workplace automation translates to increased safety for workers. As stated by Amanda Merrell, Marketing Director for one of our partner companies, Seegrid, “Forklifts are the cause of serious employee-related accidents.” This year, she notes “[Seegrid] is seeing more customer turning to forklift-free initiatives and deploying vision guided vehicles to improve facility safety.”
Other manufacturers highlighted in our recent 2015 Manufacturing Trends blog post agree this year will see advances in automation, such as 3D machine vision and collaborative robots, in an effort to both increase speed/accuracy and make the workplace safer for employees.
According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 every day for the next 19 years, which corresponds to increasing numbers of older workers retiring – at a rapid rate. A recent Polytron blog notes that the aging workforce will have a significant impact on manufacturing safety because older workers have the highest skills in operating machines and equipment safely.
To establish “a stable, consistent safety culture to support the younger workforce,” Polytron recommends that manufacturers create a knowledge transfer process to effectively capture the safety knowledge of the retiring workforce. Other ways to set up a culture of safety for younger workers include making safety training a priority, conducting risk assessments of the work environment, and keeping employees involved in and informed about safety at all times.
For the manufacturing industry, the future looks bright on account of advancements in technology, improvements in warehouse operations, and U.S. jobs returning from overseas. But, with the exciting changes ahead comes the need to prioritize safety – both now and in the future.
Focusing on the Industrial Internet of Things, automation, and talent investment are just a few of the ways manufacturers can do so. How is your organization considering safety for the future?