The manufacturing sector involves a vast range of industries and we understand that this culminates to a complex array of risks.

Don't forget!

There are risk topics not detailed here that affect all businesses, including fire risk assessmenthealth and safety policy and people management.

We also recommend that you take the time to read our advice about business continuity. Issues like machinery/plant breakdown and supply chain failure can be very damaging for manufacturers.

Cyber threats

A cyber crime incident not only presents a public relations dilemma, but also the potential for intellectual property theft which manufacturing businesses should be particularly wary of.

Additionally, if systems containing customers' or suppliers' personal information are compromised, the Information Commisioners' Office (ICO) may impose a fine on your organisation up to €20m or 4% annual global turnover (whichever is higher).

Electrical installations

Poorly maintained and faulty electrical installations and appliances have the potential to cause fires, injuries and even fatalities. In manufacturing environments, it's likely that there are various electrical installations with an assortment of electrical appliances and to ensure the safety of workers and visitors around these it's vital that inspections and routine checks form part of a preventative maintenance programme.

Fire detection and protection

Ideally, you want a fire to be detected and controlled as quickly as possible with the minimum amount of damage to your stock, machines and buildings, but it's important to keep in mind that fire alarms and detection systems are often designed just for life safety purposes, so they won’t always be best arranged to cater for production related fires as well.

To limit the damage or spread a fire could cause, buildings should be constructed with various fire-stopping measures.

Fire suppression systems

A carefully considered suppression system can get to work on controlling and reducing a fire as soon as it's detected, and it may even extinguish it, allowing firefighters access and saving lives and businesses.

A common falsehood, no doubt helped by misrepresentation in television, is that suppression systems like sprinklers can be easily set off by accident or from just a whiff of burnt toast and that they can cause extensive damage. However, if the system is designed and installed by an appropriate professional, and their advice regarding maintenance, layouts and housekeeping is followed, false activations are unlikely and if a fire is detected only the spinklers heads in the area will activate.

Besides sprinkler systems, commercial premises should be equipped with suitable fire extinguishers and where a sprinkler might not be appropriate alternative, complementary or supplementary systems should be considered, such as gaseous fire suppression systems for computer rooms.

Frozen and burst pipes

Cold temperatures can lead to pipes freezing and leaking or bursting. There are some simple measures that can be taken to reduce the chances of your premises being water-damaged as a consequence of such events; therefore preventing or limiting damage to plant and machinery, destruction of stock and materials and business interruption.

Hazardous substances

Depending on what you're manufacturing and the processes involved, there can be a range of hazardous susbtances involved. A hazardous substance might take the form of a dust, bacteria, fume, liquid or solid and each type will require special consideration to prevent illnesses and diseases due to contact via skin, inhalation or ingestion.

Lifting operations and equipment

Equipment, vehicles and installations like cranes, forklift trucks and goods and passenger lifts can be used to avoid manual handling tasks, but injuries, property damage and even fatalities can occur if that equipment isn't suitable for the task or if it's used incorrectly.

Any lifting operation should be carefully risk assessed and only carried out in safe environments, using equipment that is subject to a maintenance and inspection regime and by individuals with appropriate training.

Machinery guarding and intervention

From 2013 to 2018, 13 workers in the UK manufacturing sector were fatally injured due to contact with moving machinery while a further 7,696 non-fatal injuries, including severe cuts, dislocated joints, broken bones and even amputations, were reported1.

Reasons for a worker's intervention can range from the need to carry out cleaning and servicing tasks to removing jammed materials or realigning mechanisms. If these occasions and other problems with machines are planned for with a formal written safe system of work (SSOW) drawn up and appropriate training for employees then this type of preventable accident shouldn’t happen.

First on the list of protective measures should be the provision of guarding for dangerous parts of machines, including those that move, might eject materials, could draw in, trap and/or crush parts of the body, have sharp edges or have the potential to cause burns, scalds or electric shocks.

Manual handling

Handling, lifting or carrying something is the most common kind of accident that results in injuries in the UK's manufacturing sector and accounts for almost a third of workplace injury sickness absences lasting seven or more days1.

If a manual handling task isn't properly assessed, or is carried out in an unsafe manner, the worker can suffer from non-specific musculoskeletal disorders like back pain, strains and sprains and neck pain as well as bruising, cuts and even fractured or broken bones.

In manufacturing environments, workers might be tempted to lift and move things themselves rather than with appropriate equipment for the sake of speed, but they should be dissuaded from doing this. Additionally, on production floors workers might be making repetitive movements that, if unchecked, can cause conditions like tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow.

Noise

There is likely to be a lot of noise wherever manufacturing processes are taking place, and this isn't necessarily with respects to volume. A prolonged exposure to a noise, regardless of whether it measures below the Exposure Action Values (EAV) can cause workers to become distracted and irritable and this can lead to hypertension and sleep disturbance, just as tinnitus might.

Health and safety dutyholders can keep the levels and amount of noise down in the work environment through a variety of measures, including a 'buy quiet' purchasing policy, installation of products that can reduce noise (e.g. mats on hard floors) and regular maintenance of equipment prone to making disruptive noise, such as roll cages.

A noise assessment should be carried out at least every two years and whenever there are changes in the working environment that make the current one redundant. Based on the results of the assessment, personal protective equipment and health surveillance should be provided to workers identified as being at risk.

Pollutants

All business owners and managers have duties, set out under the Environmental Protection Act and related regulations, to control the impact that their business activities have on the environment, particularly with regards to materials that might cause harm to people or damage property.

Creating an environmental management system is one step that should be taken to identify, assess and address processes that have the potential to cause environmental damage.

Process-related fire and explosion hazards

The hazards that can cause fires and explosions during manufacturing processes are too often not properly recognised and dealt with, resulting in serious injuries and sometimes fatalities that should've been avoidable.

There are various reasons why there may be an increased risk of fire and explosion in manufacturing environments, such as the materials involved, including waste and by-products, and the processes they go through, such as heating, grinding or machining. Equipment failure and human intervention are further risks to consider.

If your risk assessments have been completed by a competent person they should have already identified processes, conditions and/or materials that pose a danger and control measures should've been introduced where it wasn't reasonably practicable to eliminate the hazards.

Slips and trips

In 2018 slips, trips and falls on same level overtook manual handling as the number one accident kind in the UK manufacturing industry, with 2,925 injuries being reported within a 12 month period over 2017/181.

Risk assessments, employee training and robust housekeeping standards can go a long way to preventing these types of accidents as the causes can often be simply and easily remedied.

In a manufacturing environment a lot of the hazards probably take the form of trailing cables, build-up of waste and spillages.

Theft of materials, equipment and stock

In the Home Office's 2017 Commercial Victimisation Survey, theft was identified as the top crime type affecting the manufacturing industry with 296 incidents reported per 1,000 premises2.

In previous years, metal has been a prime target for thieves who would sell it on as scrap, but since the introduction of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act the situation has improved significantly. Despite this, factories and other types of manufacturing premises are still proving to be a tempting target due to the range of other valuable materials that might be stored within alongside specialist machinery and tools as well as completed products.

Consequently, it's as vital as ever that sites are protected by a mix of deterrents and physical security measures so that essential business assets are kept out of the reach of criminals.

Vibration

Vibration is an often neglected workplace hazard. For some workers this can be exposure to whole-body vibration (WBV), for example, from the use of mobile machines or work vehicles, while for others it may be hand-arm from the use of hand-held power tools. Both types can cause employees health problems.

Early symptoms of vibration-related illnesses can include tingling and numbness of fingers, not being able to feel things properly, loss of strength in the hands, and fingers going white (blanching) and becoming red and painful on recovery (particularly in the cold and wet).

These symptoms may cause further issues such as sleep deprivation, reduced grip and an inability to do fine work, affecting the individual in their personal life as well as at work.

Waste management

There are a number of reasons why waste management is important, especially for business efficiency, corporate responsibility, to reduce the risk of fire, accidents and pollution and to comply with legal obligations.

Manufacturing businesses can have a vast range of waste that needs to be dealt with appropriately, including packaging, by-products, damaged stock, worn-out parts and tools and often hazardous substances.

Workplace transport

On average, 25 UK workers are killed after being hit by a moving vehicle while at work each year, and since 2013 there has been 11 such fatalities in the manufacturing sector1. Often, these incidents happen because little has been done to keep pedestrians and moving vehicles apart. Loading docks, yards, and storage areas with fork lift trucks can be especially hazardous.

Additional risk can exist where vehicles are moving around storage racking, raising the potential for the structures to collapse and trap people.