4 Major Safety Issues for the Metal Fabrication Industry

Welder in a workshop working on a piece of metal

Working in metal fabrication can sometimes require employees to engage in high-risk activities in order to properly perform their duties, including weld and manufacture ferrous materials. If you manage or are responsible for safety in a metal manufacturing facility, you know of the potential hazards that can befall workers. Every employee’s reaction in any situation is largely dependant upon the adequacy of their training, the company culture, their state of mind and the working environment being as safe as possible. If you’re looking to curb recurring incidents for your metal fabrication workers, here are four issues you should focus on.

Lack of Guards and Other Protection

The working environment in any metal fabrication plant has to be as free from hazards as possible. All required guards have to be installed and functioning, the company housekeeping has to be stellar and all workers need to be provided with PPE that fits and is in good working order.

A company that doesn’t invest in removing or mitigating existing hazards or providing protection against hazards that cannot be removed is failing its workforce. For some, investing in safety (guards, PPE, updated and safer equipment, etc.) might seem like an expensive requirement but, in the long run, it prevents injuries, loss of limbs or life and protects the employee as much as the employer. It also demonstrates the company’s proactive approach to safety and concern for their workers’ lives.

However, making an initial investment in guards and PPE is only the first step. These need to be inspected on a regular basis to ensure all guards are properly secured (including that there are no loose fittings and that they haven’t been intentionally removed or altered). PPE should also be checked to see whether it’s worn and can no longer provide adequate protection. Given the demands of the metal industry, even dedicated safety professionals can overlook this step—relying on checklists and setting a strict inspection schedule will make it easier to stay on top of equipment reviews.

Insufficient or Inconsistent Training

Providing workers with general safety training at the start of their employment without committing to regular training updates and refreshers will likely fail to achieve desired compliance results.

Consistent safety training that engages employees on all aspects of metalworking safety is a must, from wearing safety gloves and welding helmets to the proper use of forging hammers and forklift operations. No subject is too small to discuss regularly. The goal is to help workers internalize safety practices and standards and accept the value of safety. It will also combat the natural process of forgetting and, hopefully, go a long way towards creating a safety dialog between employees and management, building a healthy safety culture and developing a feeling of a safety community.

One simple way to offer useful refreshers is through toolbox talks or short team meetings at the start of each shift. Supervisors leading these meetings should use personal stories workers can relate to or discuss current events in the news relating to metal safety. The idea is to raise common dangers with metal material handling, including discussing the best ways to avoid cuts, pinch points, amputations and crushes. If it goes well, workers will leave the talk more mindful of the workplace hazards they are exposed to.

Compromised Safety Culture

It’s difficult to implement a safety program without everyone in the organization doing their part. This extends from those on the floor to upper management and demands that they all take initiative. But to promote a reduced-risk environment, there must first be a trickle-down effect—and that requires strong and competent leadership.

Managers need to lead by example and never be exempt from following the rules or attending safety training. When workers see the company’s commitment to safety, they will be more likely to follow the rules and willingly participate in safety initiatives.

A successful program must also instill a sense of accountability in workers and introduce a judgment-free way to comment on unsafe behavior and address employee concerns. Such a program will empower metal workers to initiate safety conversations, discover solutions, and cooperate with management to implement them.

Employee Awareness and State of Mind

There is a direct correlation between human factors training and incident prevention. When employees exhibit personal awareness of their physical surroundings as well as their state of mind, they are much less likely to be injured on the job. This is especially true in metal fabrication companies. Conversely, when employees feel rushed, frustrated, or fatigued, or if they’ve gotten used to taking shortcuts in order to complete their work, their chances of sustaining an injury increase substantially.

The problem with employee awareness and state of mind is that a lot of the materials in the metal fabrication industry require manual handling and the work conditions can be quite demanding. As a result, there are a number of lacerations, burns and other incidents. Additionally, due to the weight, size and bulk of the metals, workers experience back sprains and strains, and shoulder injuries.

These problems can be addressed not only by providing proper training, refresher sessions and good safety communication but also by introducing the concept of human factors. This can help workers address issues like rushing or frustration that often lead to injuries. It also helps them deal with complacency, which often makes metal workers lose focus, underestimate the amount of hazard involved in a task, and even chose not to use PPE or lifting machines when handling heavy loads.

Metal fabrication and manufacturing is one of the toughest industries to develop elevated standards of safety because the work occurring on the floor is very high-risk. It’s crucial for companies to support employees by helping them develop safety communication skills, better situational awareness, and know when their state of mind may pose a risk to themselves or others. It’s also why it’s important for managers to initiate safety conversations (contributing to better safety awareness), nurture a positive safety culture and ensure working conditions are as free from hazards as possible.