It's important for manufacturers to have a solid understanding of their safety technologies and techniques. Companies can do this by determining which of the following categories they best fit into.

Incomplete or improper: Safety is an afterthought if it is considered at all. Workers are expected to keep themselves safe. If safety technologies are used, they are likely misused or defeated, or non-safety technologies are used in place of safety technologies.

Basic: Efforts are made to ensure the plant is compliant with safety regulations. In place of standard control devices, basic safety technologies and techniques are used, including safety relays and lockout/tagout procedures.

Optimized: Supplemental safety technologies and techniques are used to optimize safety. In particular, manufacturers use alternatives to lockout/tagout tasks when they are deemed to be cumbersome, costly or time consuming.

Integrated: Machinery has tight integration between safety and control functions. While these manufacturers understand that safety and control functions must be separate, they also know that the two can work with each other to improve operating efficiency and productivity.

In a recent Aberdeen Group study, 74 percent of best-in-class manufacturers said they used integrated safety technologies to improve diagnostics and reduce unscheduled downtime. Such technologies include integrated safety controllers, which combine safety and standard control in one chassis. These controllers can be connected to plantwide information systems, giving operators visibility into metrics such as downtime reports, and machinery and line efficiency.

Assessment Tools

Self-guided assessments can help organizations measure and evaluate safety programs.

One such tool is the Safety Maturity Index (SMI), which rates the three key pillars – culture, compliance and capital – on a scale of 1 to 4.

SMI 1: Minimizing investment – For manufacturers who fall into this category, production throughput and cost reduction are the top priorities.

Safety incidents frequently are hidden. There may be high incident rates, high insurance costs, fines or employee complaints to government agencies. Incomplete or improper use of safety technologies exacerbates the problem.

SMI 2: Attaining compliance – For these manufacturers, safety is important, but minimal compliance is the most important part of the safety program. They often use safety technologies such as relays, which separate safety from core or standard machinery operation.

SMI 3: Cost avoidance – Companies in SMI 3 consider safety a high priority but not necessarily a true value. Most safety incidents are reported, but some may be discovered after the fact. Compliance processes are established but may be applied inconsistently. Safeguarding technologies are used as a supplement to the standard control system. Safety is the goal, rather than operational excellence.

SMI 4: Operational excellence – For SMI 4 manufacturers, safety is considered vital to the health of the business and its employees. Safety is an inherent value, and everyone is held accountable and willingly accepts responsibility for themselves and the safety of their co-workers.

Compliance processes clearly are defined, and even suppliers must live up to required safety standards. The company conducts thorough risk assessments and uses advanced safety technologies to improve worker safety and OEE.

The benefits of optimizing safety extend far beyond fewer injuries or fines. Companies that approach safety holistically across culture, compliance and capital can improve productivity, gain efficiencies and experience improved employee morale, while also protecting their brand reputation.

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

This article was reproduced with permission from EHS Today: