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While many industries are facing increased demand for essential goods and supplies, it’s also true that others are experiencing prolonged periods of downtime. This pause in production can be a useful time to address those safety concerns around your site, ensuring it’s better protected when production resumes.
The current COVID-19 situation continues to have far-reaching impacts on everyday life. While the impact being felt by people and families around the world should not be ignored, it is also important to consider how it is affecting industry. This period of social distancing and self-isolation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, so how can industries best utilize this time?
We have already discussed the sectors that are experiencing an increase in demand to produce essential goods, as well as industries diversifying their output to produce vital medical supplies; however, there are also many businesses for which this time brings only uncertainty and disruption.
Large numbers of companies are experiencing a prolonged period of downtime or, at least, a reduced level of operations. This is partly the result of the government guidelines around social distancing, but equally a significant drop in demand – especially for sectors like the automotive industry or airports and airfields. Equally, a breakdown in supply chains, where suppliers and distributors are experiencing shutdowns themselves, make it harder for other companies to continue operating as normal.
Each industry is facing its own challenges. However, with these challenges also comes opportunity. This downtime can provide an essential opportunity to review current site safety measures. While not every company experiencing downtime will have the financial or human resources to overhaul their safety systems at this time, it is useful to look at areas with the potential for improvement when those resources become available. This will ensure that employees are safe when production finally resumes. After all, no matter how difficult the current situation, it is crucial to remember it is only temporary.
Below are a few ways to brush up on your safety systems during operational downtime.
While this downtime might involve long periods away from your facility, you can still engage with site safety though rigorous research. The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health is an invaluable source of information and insight. Another important resource is PAS 13.
You may already be aware of PAS 13. This the only code of practice that provides specific, detailed guidance on safety and traffic management in the industrial workplace: everything from the right level of protection for certain applications to proper standards for ensuring that safety barriers are fit for purpose. Published by the British Standards Institute, PAS 13 took more than two years to develop and involved an expert committee comprising leading organisations from across manufacturing, as well as the Health and Safety Executive, universities and safety barrier manufacturers.
Now is an excellent opportunity for Operations- and Health and Safety Managers to review this useful publication to explore ways you might improve your facility. If you’re especially concerned about proper vehicle and pedestrian segregation, for example, PAS 13 will advise you on the best practice for improving on site traffic flow, while also segregating and protecting busy walkways.
If this period of inactivity gives you time to research workplace safety, then PAS 13 is great starting point and the best way of ensuring that your workforce is properly protected for the future.
As social distancing continues, there has been a definite reduction in the number of essential visitors allowed onto sites across a range of industries. This makes it difficult to get a thorough evaluation of the safety measures you currently have in place. Nevertheless, you can use this time to review your site’s history of workplace accidents and incidents and what additional measures can be implemented to keep the risks low.
Industrial facilities will already log and record accidents and incidents that occur on site. As The Health & Safety Executive says, “If you have more than 10 employees, you must keep an accident book under social security law.” While this data will be under constant review, many busy facilities will not have the time to overhaul their infrastructure and safety systems to better protect their site and its people. Many factories and warehouses will have onsite maintenance teams who are often tasked with making quick, cost-effective repairs to these problem areas. Given the length of downtime some companies face, this is a great opportunity to consider more suitable alternatives.
Sites with a high volume of vehicle traffic – especially forklift trucks – are at a greater risk of repeated impacts. These vulnerable areas need constant repair to ensure operations can carry on as normal, however a change to the safety systems in place could dramatically reduce the amount of downtime resulting from maintenance. For example, a bollard could be a more reliable solution than a wall or corner protector, by not only providing heavy duty protection but also creating a more clearly defined obstacle for site vehicles. If you find yourself constantly replacing concrete or metal safety guardrails, now could be the time to invest in flexible polymer traffic guardrails. While the capex cost might be somewhat higher than your usual purchase, the ability of polymer to withstand multiple impacts and fully recover will deliver substantial opex savings through much lower maintenance and repair costs.
Another way to dramatically increase safety levels on site is to review your current traffic management measures. As this article by the Safety and Health Practitioner explains, workplace injuries from forklift trucks rose from 1,000 to 1,300 between 2018 and 2019. The increase in recorded accidents is a concern for any facility experiencing high volumes of traffic. If your site falls into this area, then a proper review of your vehicle routes and pedestrian walkways is essential. It is also important to consider areas where ‘bottle-necking’ occurs. If there are key areas where vehicles and pedestrians come into close contact – such as shared doorways – what can be done to remove this risk? With many of our customers, A-SAFE has recommended the installation of new entry points to proper segregate pedestrians from forklift trucks and other site vehicles.
Other vulnerable areas include crossing points. As A-SAFE Health & Safety Manager, Stewart Morris, explains, “the safest crossing-point is no crossing-point”. It is worth reviewing pedestrian routes around your facility to see where you can minimise the need for crossing-points, or at the very least, install new measures to better protect your workforce. Offset doorways and floor markings are simple measures that can be implemented quickly to slow pedestrians down, while overhead walkways provide the safest solution. Nevertheless, there are several measures that sit between these two approaches. Pull-gate entrances in pedestrian guardrails, for example, are a good way to give pedestrians a moment’s pause before crossing a busy traffic route. It is also worth reviewing the traffic management measures you have in place as they could prevent serious and even fatal accidents in future. In this respect, PAS 13 is an invaluable source of guidance.
During periods of busy operations, it can be hard to implement sweeping changes to site safety, so now could be the time not only to identify your needs, but also to learn what solutions are available to you.
Many companies that have temporarily ceased operations during the current situation will probably have restrictions on unnecessary purchases. While investing in safety systems is far from unnecessary, it is understandable that some businesses will be unwilling to pay for such work during downtime, especially if revenue streams are interrupted.
Nevertheless, important work can still be done to identify and address concerns around facility safety before investing any capital. As previously mentioned, social distancing guidelines will limit the number of visitors to site, but with remote working options becoming more reliable and widely used, it is still possible to receive an expert evaluation of your safety needs.
At A-SAFE, we are available for anyone seeking safety guidance during the COVID-19 situation with a range of free remote services. Our remote site surveys are a great way to get valuable insights into the needs of your facility’. Experienced, fully trained workplace safety experts will assess your facility and suggest a range of potential solutions to minimise hazards in future. With video conferencing and video calls becoming a staple of the work environment, our team can perform virtual surveys to better understand your needs. Simply provide measurements and details of the areas to be protected – along with photos – and our team will tailor the right solution.
These complimentary services are an excellent way to get an informed assessment of your site and arm yourself with the information you need to propose fundamental upgrades to budget-holders once your employer is again ready to invest.
The COVID-19 crisis continues to challenge every industry in a multitude of ways. While no company can carry on ‘business as usual’, it’s important not to lose sight of the potential for making improvements. If you are facing downtime currently, it is crucial to make sure that your workplace is properly protected when the current restrictions end and daily production resumes.
At A-SAFE, we are proud to support essential industries, but equally, we want to do all we can to help those customers who are facing reduced operations. If you have any concerns about your safety systems, then please contact us and we will do all we can to help and ensure they are up and running when you need them to be.
We have one simple message: We’re Ready When You Are. No matter what your safety needs are or when you need them, we will be here with advice and support to ensure your workplace and workforce are properly protected for the future.