A significant challenge for manufacturers is determining how to bridge the disconnect between engineering and EHS. Often, the larger the company, the larger the gulf is between these two groups.

Communication is the key to closing the gap between engineering and EHS. Both groups need to collaborate and work toward a common goal, but may not have a solid understanding of the other's job or function. Communication about the impact of each group's responsibilities on the other group will allow these teams to work toward a shared goal rather than the personal outcomes of each group. In some organizations, engineering and EHS are part of the same department, and EHS is an established career path for engineers.

Cross-functional communication also is critical when ordering new machinery. At a minimum, a company should have functional safety standards in place that have been agreed upon by engineering, EHS, operations and maintenance. This will help ensure consistency among the plant's machinery and also help incorporate the needs of workers who will be involved with the equipment.

For example, a bolt-on safeguard may be fixed over a hazardous spinning blade on a new machine. But if an operator needs to clean the blade on a daily basis, he or she may find a workaround – such as permanently removing the guard or reducing guard fasteners – that exposes workers to the hazard and wastes the investment in safety.

Performing a proper task-based risk assessment and considering all human elements that will be involved with the machine is critical. Studies show that about 90 percent of machinery safety incidents occur outside of normal operation.

Manufacturers should apply the same standards to equipment upgrades as they do new purchases. This particularly is important for those with in-house engineering capabilities. Design and remanufacturing projects originating from in-house departments too often are not held to the same standards as OEM-delivered new machinery. If anything, however, in-house engineers should be extremely familiar with their own company's standards and be held to an even higher standard than OEMs.

In addition, manufacturers need to consider the impact of compliance (or lack thereof) beyond their own walls. The companies that turn a blind eye to vendors with lower standards face major financial and reputational risks if their operations are interrupted by, or even associated with, supplier negligence. Supply-chain safety is an area gaining attention, as safety violations, preventable industrial accidents and mistreated laborers can result in costly fines, company downtime and negative news coverage that can impact profitability.

Best-in-class manufacturers understand this risk and put the same requirements on third parties as they put on themselves. And, more often than not, the larger the company, the more influence they can have on their suppliers.


About the Author
Steve Ludwig is safety programs manager for Rockwell Automation. 

This article was reproduced with permission from EHS Today: