While news about manufacturing job losses continue to make headlines, about 11 million Americans currently work in industrial and manufacturing settings, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

So why do we hear so little about the many industrial and manufacturing facility dangers? Has safety been given the short shrift? There are proven tools and procedures that have been developed to address industrial safety. Of critical importance is the Industrial Facility Safety Audit.

Getting Started
Before getting started, think about the last facility safety audit conducted at your facility. What items or activities were checked? Were the changes implemented? 

Deciding which job(s) should be examined first should be determined by the following criteria:
• Accident frequency and severity
• Potential for severe injuries and illness
• New jobs
• Modified jobs
• Infrequently performed jobs

Inspire your team to get involved. Organize three to five people from your facility representing a variety of departments. Be prepared to walk through and examine equipment and facilities, review the appropriate paperwork and safety signage for all areas and chat with co-workers who actually work in many of these areas. 

Start with the parking lot. Are parking signs the correct dimensions (18 x 12 inches) and made of a durable material (aluminum)? Carry out similar evaluations throughout your entire facility.
• Check the warehouse. Typically, there are many common signs needed. Forklifts and areas around loading docks present carbon monoxide hazards. Aisles need to be clear.
• Review welding, spray booth, compressed gas storage areas — if applicable. You'll need highly visible hazard signs in each of these areas to provide proper safety.
• Check the maintenance shop. You'll typically find chemicals such as gas, solvents and cleaning supplies as well as possible electrical and mechanical hazards.
• Chemical storage areas are important to check for appropriate hazard warnings, leaks, spills, exposure to flammable materials and proper air flow.
• Examine overhead and gentry cranes — again, if applicable. These move materials and products throughout a facility and are potentially dangerous.
• Lockout/tag out (LO/TO). All energy sources are to be turned off and locked out while machines are serviced to prevent accidents. Energy sources that can't be locked out must be tagged out. There are many LO/TO devices and tags available to suit your application.
• Check outdoor areas such as maintenance sheds, waste storage areas and loading docks for flammable debris, exposure to cables and stacks of boxes piled high. 
• Buildings must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Life Safety Code 101. Check exits, restrooms, etc. for proper and required signage.
• Conduct a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA)

Safety and health consultant James Pryor has conducted a great many Industrial Facility Safety audits. As a heavy industry manager, he has also been the subject of many industrial safety audits. Pryor is the Vice President of Marketing Business Development for American Safety and Health Management Consultants, Inc.

"In my past experience as part of a large corporation, I had the time and resources to conduct a JHA. To me, the JHA, if conducted properly, is the single most important tool in preventing accidents," explained Pryor.

The steps involved in a JHA are as follows:
• Select the job to be analyzed
• Break down the job into sequences
• Identify the hazards
• Determine preventive measures to overcome the hazards

For small to medium sized companies, Pryor believes the role of the audit is important, but not critical.
"Generally, I have found the audit ranks low in priority. There are a variety of reasons for this. One primary reason is that there appears to be no immediate benefit. Many times the audit becomes a to-do list with added costs in the eyes of management or a political tool for the employees. Unfortunately, most audits are triggered by either accidents or regulatory action," Pryor said.

Industrial and manufacturing facilities are the breeding grounds for a long list of dangerous scenarios. While some are minor, others are major and not a matter of choice but a matter of the law under OSHA and other government regulations. Those who choose to ignore or disregard these laws may be subject to harsh penalties — both monetary and emotional.
According to Pryor, many workers and managers learn primarily how to view safety as a series of events — behaviors that contribute to the overall safety culture. Safety audits help measure performance in regards to workplace safety. The data obtained can be used to apply more resources to those areas not in compliance. 

It's entirely possible that the guy sitting next to you on the bus or the woman stalled in traffic in your lane on the highway may well be on their way to work in an industrial or manufacturing facility. What are they thinking about? Are they fearful and why? 

Being accidentally struck by an object, machine-related accidents, falls and exposure to deadly substances and environments such as poisons, oxygen shortage, electrical shock and fire are leading causes of workplace fatalities, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2004, there were 463 fatalities in the manufacturing industry in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While this may not seem like a significant number, given our degree of sophistication, our awareness and our safety laws and regulations, it's too high.

"We can create the safest physical environment with the best policies, procedures, equipment, safety controls, and safety training. When you add human beings, they will do things in ways you did not predict. Employees will bypass safety guards and take other safety short cuts. This is not done because employees want to get hurt. Employees are attempting to get the job done efficiently, quickly, and with quality," observed Dr. Judy Agnew, Senior Vice President of Safety Solutions for Aubrey Daniels International and author of Removing Obstacles to Safety: A Behavior-Based Approach.

Like a trip to a good dentist, the industrial safety audit is designed to be preventative — to identify those areas that need improvement — before anything bad can actually happen. For example, chemical burns from leaky barrels can be caused by common substances found in industrial settings such as sodium, lithium or potassium as well as acids such as sulfuric and hydrofluoric acid. 

Most jobs can be described in fewer than 10 steps. Each basic step may have associated hazards — determined by observation, knowledge of accident and injury causes and personal experience. Really, the best way to determine hazards is just by watching someone work. 

Example: A lathe operator in a machining department. His work may require several steps. One of these steps often involves flying metal shards or cutting oil which impacts the eyes, face or skin. These are hazards created by blowing off cutting fluid and metal shards from the lathe mounting plate with compressed air. In a typical job hazard analysis form, there may be more than one form of protection for the lathe operator — lowering compressed air pressure, using a vacuum, brush or cloth to remove debris and recommending eye protection.

There are four ways to determine preventative measures. In order of preference, consider:
• Eliminating the hazard through engineering — increasing ventilation, changing equipment or tools
• Containing the hazard with enclosures
• Administrative procedures like changing the sequence of steps or adding lockout/tag out (LO/TO) device
• Leveraging Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as goggles 

Case Study
Bruce MacKender, Member & Relations Manager, for the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), recalls his former company's experience with Industrial Safety Audits.

"I was the Operations Manager for the Delta Engineering Division of Western Electronics, a Tualatin, OR manufacturer of light gauge precision sheet metal used in the high-tech electronics and telecommunications industries. This operation had a standing safety committee -- a voluntary team of employees that covered all days and hours of our operation and explored every part of our manufacturing facility each week to look for possible unsafe conditions. The team usually included one of our team members from the Quality department. 

"Because of training and discipline, they were well-suited to look for items and areas of "compliance" and "non-compliance." Each week, the safety committee would perform a 45 to 60 minute safety audit in one area of the operation. As an example, one week we'd look at the area where we stored our solvent-based materials for our painting and finishing operation, then the next week we'd examine our forklift operations, the following week we'd review our air supply systems (compressors and air lines) -- slowly, but surely making our way around our 60,000 square foot manufacturing plant to insure we were running the operation as safely as we could and not putting any of our 100+ employees at risk. We conducted these industrial safety audits on an ongoing basis.

"One day, we were surprised to find that three OSHA representatives were "invited" to inspect the plant based on a call from a former employee. While it was a hellish week, we did learn a great deal from the experience -- that with the best of intentions we had not discovered on our own. For example, we learned that one of the most common OSHA infractions occurs in the machine guarding area. Our company had dozens of small fractional horsepower bench grinders used for de-burring of parts. Frequently, small resting tables and glass windows would be removed to allow the operators better access to the grinding wheel and perform their work which resulted in potentially unsafe conditions. In the end, we learned that we needed to make a small investment of additional time to find alternative methods for performing these operations.

"Another major area of concern was the eye wash station. We found that eye wash stations need to be monitored weekly, as they get contaminated with dust very quickly when they are not used. The irony is that while eye wash stations are strategically installed throughout the operation with the intention of being "first aid" devices, they can actually become safety hazards that can potentially cause greater damage to an injured eye when the stations are contaminated and full of dust, as there's no point is washing your eyes in muddy water!

"Through our process and through our OSHA experience, we also became more knowledgeable and aware of hearing and breathing protection -- ensuring that our respirators' filtering systems were working properly and we had the correct filtration systems for each different application.

"Our OSHA experience was ultimately very positive. We learned that being pro-active in addressing our infractions helped, too, and to communicate our good intentions in the form of letters, photographs and proof that we'd took corrective action and created training and education programs where they were needed. 

"In the two years I was with Western Electronics, we were very fortunate because we had no major industrial accidents. On the positive side, we did conduct First Alert First Aid Training so we were probably better prepared for emergencies than most companies.

"Most importantly, we did a great job of creating a heightened sense of awareness of safety issues for our employees and team members, from their arrival in the parking lot to the time they left at the end of their shift." 

It's not enough to simply develop a to-do list that winds up sitting on a manager's shelf. Safety action plans should be a work in progress to be updated continuously reflecting changes in the workplace — new employees, new managers, new equipment and new facilities.

After the audit has been conducted and changes and corrections have been made, document and share the following with all in a safety log book,
• Have the number of injuries increased, decreased or remained the same?
• What about increased or decreased exposure to potential hazards? 
• Changed attitudes? Hard to gauge unless surveys and open discussions are conducted and recorded.
• Physical changes that make a place feel safer
"It is hard to ascertain whether the actual audit or the increased safety awareness created by the audit activity resulted in improved safety performance. One thing is paramount — keep the safety awareness alive. Once the corrections are in place and business returns to normal, complacency sets in if the results of the audit completions are not followed up either through safety committee communications or other means of communicating safe work practices. Remember, the audit is a tool. A successful safety program is driven by behavior starting with management down to the temporary part-time worker," concluded Pryor.

While an Industrial Facility Safety Audit should result in an agreed upon number of corrective actions to implement, ask yourself this question.

Do you feel safe at work? If the answer is "no" or "not sure," then you've got your work cut out for you. If the answer is "yes," then your work is done — for now.
Steve Stephenson is with Graphic Products, Inc. For more information, visitwww.graphicproducts.com or www.duralabel.com.