How can plant operators meet employee protection standards through safety training and development?
Safety training and development are crucial for ensuring competence and compliance in the engineering and manufacturing industry. Not only does it assure employers that they are fulfilling their legal obligations, but the bigger picture is also that fostering a continuous learning and development culture can create a safer working environment.
But what does this entail? How do safety executives build a training and development programme that addresses competence and compliance?
The starting point is to determine what regulatory requirements need to be met through training.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires all employers to provide whatever information, instruction, training and supervision is necessary to ensure the health and safety of their employees.
This is expanded by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which identify situations where health and safety training is particularly important, for example, when people start work, on exposure to new or increased risks and where existing skills may have become rusty or need updating.
Some areas of safety training are legal requirements for any company in any industry. Fire safety training, for example, is a statutory duty for all employees.
Beyond this mandatory training, it is down to individual companies to decide what training needs to be carried out to ensure the health and safety of their workforce. This can be done by identifying the skills and knowledge required for people to do their jobs safely - identifying any skill gaps, reviewing injuries, near misses or cases of ill health, and looking at risk assessments to see where training has been identified as a factor in controlling risk. There may also be industry-specific safety training obligations that need to be met.
The engineering and manufacturing industry spans numerous types of work, from assembly to fabrication to machining. All these typically involve heavy-duty machinery that can pose safety risks. The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) come into play here, as these regulations require that equipment, as well as being safe, suitable, well maintained and regularly inspected, is only used by competent people who have had adequate training. It applies to every type of work equipment, from forklifts to drills, CNC machines and industrial robots. Hand Arm Vibration Awareness (HAVS) training may also be necessary for anyone using vibrating tools.
High-risk working environments are not unusual in this sector, and exposure to chemicals, fumes, gases, vapours, biological agents, and dust at work are major risk factors. If your facility uses potentially hazardous substances, providing COSHH (Control Of Substances Hazardous to Health) training is a must. Employers must deliver information, instructions and training for employees who might be exposed to these substances. This should help people recognise hazardous substances, appreciate the health risks associated with exposure and understand the importance of following the correct working practices, such as handling, storing, and deposing these substances. Training on how to deal with spillages may also be beneficial.
Manual handling is often a feature of manufacturing operations, and businesses are obliged to demonstrate compliance with the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992. This means protecting workers from manual handling tasks that could lead to musculoskeletal disorders and injuries. Part of this is training workers on carrying and lifting techniques as well as the use of any equipment that is introduced to assist with lifting.
According to HSE data, slips, trips, and falls are the number one cause of injuries in the workplace, amounting to 30% of all injuries reported under RIDDOR in 2021/22. Therefore, training is recommended to help staff learn about slip and trip mapping, their housekeeping responsibilities, and how to prevent hazards. Training should also cover how to work safely from heights if this is a risk factor for your organisation - falls from heights account for 8% of all workplace injuries.
PPE and RPE are commonplace in many manufacturing industries. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers are legally required to provide the necessary training to use equipment safely. As well as respiratory equipment and eye protection, training should cover hearing protection. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 introduced certain noise thresholds, and employers must provide annual training to each employee exposed to continuous noise or noise above the lower exposure action value of 80dB(A).
Whilst these are the most common safety training areas that must be covered to ensure competence and compliance in engineering and manufacturing operations, this list is by no means exhaustive. A fully comprehensive safety training system will address company-specific safety risks and incorporate provisions for continuous learning and development - safety training isn’t just a one-off box-ticking exercise.
Continuous learning - passing knowledge through repeated and sustained instruction methods - is the key to building and sustaining safe work habits. Continuous learning involves constantly updating and expanding employee knowledge to take account of their progression and professional development goals, keeping abreast of changes to relevant guidelines, openly sharing safety information and learning and improving from incidents and complaints.
Cultivating a continuous learning culture requires an ongoing commitment from employers, but it will be worth it in the long run as consistency yields the best results. Rather than telling staff what to do and what not to do, an employer will focus on developing and engaging employees through learning and training. A safer work environment and a more contented workforce will be the return of this long-sighted approach to safety training.