Safety Is A Numbers Game For Manufacturers

Nevin Batiwalla

Federal work-safety regulators are cracking down on manufacturers across the country with a relatively new initiative that has resulted in hefty fines and repeat inspections.

Almost 20 percent of the businesses that have been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s new Severe Violator Enforcement Program have been manufacturers, according to OSHA data. The only industry with more companies on the list is construction.

The program, which went into effect in summer 2010, is aimed at workplaces that endanger workers by exposing them to severe occupational hazards. For manufacturers, common hazards include amputations, combustible dust and exposure to crystalline silica.

Todd Hohn, a vice president of Franklin-based PureSafety, which makes training, safety and management software, said the current regulatory environment is more stringent when it comes to safety than in the past.

“There are definitely a lot more six- and seven-figure penalties and more regulations from OSHA,” Hohn said. “The thing about regulations is once they are there, they don’t typically go away.”

Of all industries, manufacturing is often the most impacted by regulations. On average, manufacturing firms face $688,944 in regulatory costs — $500,000 more on average than other businesses, according to a recent congressional study by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

During the recession, some manufacturers lacked an emphasis on safety, Hohn said.

“If my profit margin is slipping, I may focus on growing the bottom line of the business than having more money put toward safety,” Hohn said.

The economy has been so poor that many employees chose not to file workers comp claims for fear of losing their jobs, Hohn said.

“Now they are starting to come to the surface,” he said.

PureSafety’s software helps companies comply with safety regulations and manage health and safety programs. Its software provides companies with daily automated emails related to safety compliance.

“We’ve seen companies (using the software) that have reduced their incident rates 50 to 80 percent,” Hohn said.

An aging and less healthy workforce is extending the amount of time people are off from work due to injuries, Hohn said. “It impacts a company’s profitability when production goes down and quality decreases,” Hohn said.

To combat that, companies are turning to safety analytics as they focus on preventing incidents rather than reacting to them.

Using computer software that can analyze thousands of data points, analytics give companies insight as to where to apply limited resources, Hohn said.

“Instead of waiting for something bad to happen, you can focus on the things you can control and prevent,” Hohn said. “The technology will let you know when you are going off track so you can correct course before something bad happens.”