Plastics manufacturers are some of the more safety concerned organizations in the US today. The efficacy and safety of the products they produce, whether in medical, automotive or even packaging and consumer goods is of utmost importance to their brand, their bottom line and the lives of those consumers that utilize those products. Within that list of affected audiences, are manufacturing employees.
As injection molding machines get larger and larger, so do the safety issues associated with running them. While almost all plastic injection machinery manufacturers follow the appropriate safety regulations in the design and development of the machinery, including shielding, guarding, safety shutoffs and “lock out – tag out” (LOTO) protocols, many are overlooking some of the additional needs that come from high base or even larger tonnage machines.
One safety related example often overlooked might be the addition of platforms to the footprint of a machine. While most injection machine manufacturers do not offer them at all or even as an aftermarket product, there is a growing need for them and a growing request by US plastics manufacturing companies. Many in the industry have interpreted platforms as more of a convenience rather than a matter of safety. However, anecdotally speaking, a number of companies have expressed the need for these platforms in and around larger tonnage machines in order to safely access all areas of the injection machinery for maintenance, cleaning and for general repairs.
Understandably so, safety can be a hot topic and for some a costly one at that. While the OSHA numbers for 2017 have not been reported, and many trends in US manufacturing including the plastics industry are trending downward in terms of reported injuries and fatalities, there is a clear area to improve upon. This is especially more so as larger and larger injection machinery are being designed and deployed.
Mike Rowe, a famous TV host of a Discovery Channel (US) show called Dirty Jobs has spoken on the topic of safety a great number of times. Over the course of his experiences he coined the phrase Safety 3rd. While I won’t go into the back story of how he came to coin that phrase (link), I will echo a couple of messages he has mentioned in the past. Safety is probably plastered across hundreds of thousands of banners across hundreds of manufacturing shop floors, but usually with the phrasing of “safety first”. As Mike Rowe mentions in a few different ways, this sort of onslaught of Safety First visuals may sometimes lull employees into a false sense of security, which can sometimes lead to complacency, which can lead to accidents.
Most safety experts will acknowledge that safety is a two way exchange of the safety protocols and equipment provided, often by employers, and the adherence to safety practices by the operations groups. The new platform trends mentioned before fall within that first group. However, it is the practice or compliance to those protocols and vigilance in doing so that makes the difference. The phrase “safety 3rd” only came about as a way to make Mike Rowe and his crew, and by extension the average person, stop and think about what might go first and second rather than to be complacent in the common theme of “safety first”.
Which brings us to the final thought and comment on all things safety. “Just because you are in compliance, doesn’t mean you are out of danger” (Mike Rowe). As we move into a new year, with some exciting plastics technology and systems being showcased by the industry, lets not forget safety and especially additional considerations around new and existing machinery to help keep that downward trend in accidents consistent.