Despite economic turbulence in recent years, UK manufacturing is in a buoyant mood. Industry body Make UK’s latest survey of the potential for growth in the sector found UK firms optimistic. Over half of manufacturers intended to grow their business by over 20% in the next five years and one in five expected the growth to boost workforce numbers by more than 20%.
Experience suggests times of rapid expansion are also times of increased health and safety risk. New employees are likely to be more of a risk to themselves and others until they are trained. And manufacturing remains a hazardous occupation; the industry already has high injury and illness rates compared with some other sectors.
It is easy to concentrate on workplace accidents but the toll of ill health in manufacturing is higher and more costly than safety failings. An average of 92,000 manufacturing workers a year suffered from work-related ill health in the three years to March 2022 according to the Health and Safety Executive’s(HSE) latest figures. Many of these were cases of musculoskeletal conditions or stress and anxiety, but one in five cases - more than 17,000 a year were industrial diseases including occupational asthma and dermatitis. Annually around 4,000 manufacturing employees suffer with breathing or lung problems caused or made worse by their work, from exposure to respiratory sensitisers such as solvent fumes, flour or wood dusts and cutting oils. The chest physician reporting scheme suggests that manufacturing has a rate of occupational asthma about five times higher than the average. Separately, the last in-depth research into occupational cancers commissioned by the HSE found that almost 30% of the occupational cancers registered each year were attributable to past work in manufacturing.
COSHH’s control measures start at the top of the hierarchy of control with elimination of hazardous substances or replacing them with less potent alternatives. Next is the thorough risk assessment of the specific uses of hazardous substances that remain - with reference to the safety data sheet for each substance - and implementing the controls that come out of the assessments. Keeping employees well informed and trained is the fourth control - covering not just safe handling but also emergency procedures such as spill control - and inspecting and maintaining equipment so as to minimise exposure is the fifth. Finally comes exposure monitoring to check levels in the workplace are within safe limits and lastly health surveillance, regular medical checks to see that employees are not adversely affected.
Sypol has a long and proven track record of helping manufacturers, supporting many companies to manage their COSHH controls and protect their workforces. One example is Polypipe, a major maker of piping systems and water and climate management systems. The company employs 3,500 staff across 12 different sites. Polypipe takes its COSHH obligations very seriously but struggled to monitor all the chemicals in use across multiple sites and departments, and to gather the data from suppliers to produce technical COSHH assessments. The support they receive from Sypol includes seven-day access to a team of technical experts who are available on the phone or email to help and advise on delivering bespoke COSHH assessments for any hazardous products. Knowing that their COSHH assessments have been written and checked by a competent person gives Polypipe complete confidence that their COSHH strategy is being implemented compliantly.
EcoOnline is able to offer this peace of mind to all its customers, freeing them up to concentrate on other aspects of keeping employees safe and healthy. If manufacturers are going to expand in the way they have told Make UK they plan to, it will be on the back of sound chemicals management and COSHH compliance, giving their workforces the chance to thrive.