Improving production plant safety is a worthwhile investment

In addition to profitable business operations, the safety of people and the environment are fundamental to any industrial production plant. Better safety management also brings bigger gains. Nevertheless, a surprising number of companies do not give safety the attention it deserves.

When the topic of production plant safety comes up, what many people think of is occupational safety. But whether a plant is new or already in operation, safety involves a lot more, such as machine safety, process safety and chemical safety.

In the EU, the different areas of plant safety have their own legislation and standards in place. When the requirements are met, a minimum level for production plant safety is achieved, as a result of which it is permitted to use the plant and its production machinery. The supervisory authorities regularly ensure that matters are taken care of properly even after the permits have been issued.


Jungle of requirements too much for one person

Today, many production plants are given the all-clear when it comes to occupational safety. But one persistent basic problem just won’t go away: a person in charge of a plant’s safety may be well versed in occupational safety, but when the plant environment is viewed from a broader perspective, measuring, observing and developing safety present a much bigger challenge.

The EU steers its member states’ policies through directives. Some of the directives have a direct impact on plants’ operations while some are indirect. Monitoring and mastering directives, national legislation and binding standards, especially in large companies, is demanding work. One expert is not always enough.

A special problem in terms of leadership is that, at a plant, responsibilities are divided up between different decision-makers who take care of the tasks alongside their regular work. As you might guess, it is not easy for a person focusing on managing production to also concentrate fully on the wide range of safety issues.


Deficiencies in safety result in a multitude of risks

Problems linked to plant safety may result from, not only inadequate competence, but also from the inability to spotlight safety and the root causes of problems. The benefits are difficult to notice even though the fact is that investments in safety always show up in a company’s bottom line. Because of the difficulty of assessing the short-term benefits, it is important to first look into the possible consequences of not taking safety issues into account sufficiently. The most serious negative impacts are of course related to personal safety: an accident taking place at the plant, leading to an employee’s death or permanent injury.

Another major direct negative impact is environmental risks. They are serious in and of themselves, but they also additionally generate different types of indirect risks. Financial risk is realized, for instance, when a company pollutes the environment and it is required to compensate for the damages it has caused. In addition, the fallout from a reputation risk can be significant and drawn out agonizingly, especially when the environmental impacts are featured in the media.


Investments reduce risks and improve efficiency

Conversely, efforts to improve safety result in positive impacts. Safe production plants have fewer accidents and injuries, which leads to fewer absences due to illness. What is more, investments in safety also improve the efficiency of production plants – a point that should be discussed more often. When an old production plant after years or decades of use is modernized, developments in technology, measurements and protection enable improvements and optimization in a number of areas. Modernizations can help to eliminate certain work stages, which increases the effectiveness of individual employees or teams.

The world is full of horror stories of companies that only started improving safety after an accident or other safety-related risk materialized. In light of this, the message should be clear: improving safety is a profitable investment that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

More stories you might like