The manufacturing sector is a vital component to the UK economy, providing essential goods and employment opportunities.
However, the nature of work in manufacturing comes with inherent risks and challenges that can affect the health and well-being of its workers. The Labour Force Survey estimates that an average of 33,000 workers per year suffer from illnesses that have been caused or made worse by their job in the manufacturing sector. This highlights not only the increased risk within the sector but also the diverse range of health and safety issues that can follow.
As an employer, it is your responsibility to keep your employees safe whilst at work which is why it’s important to understand what the top safety risks to your people are. Below we share some of the most common health issues faced by employees in the manufacturing sector, and highlight the importance of proactive measures to address and prevent these challenges.
- Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs): Musculoskeletal disorders are prevalent among manufacturing workers due to repetitive motions, heavy lifting, and awkward postures. Conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, tendonitis, and strains can arise from prolonged and improper body movements. Implementing ergonomic practices, providing training on proper lifting techniques, and offering ergonomic tools and workstations can significantly reduce the risk of MSDs.
- Occupational Noise-Induced Hearing Loss: Excessive noise levels in manufacturing plants, generated by machinery, equipment, and processes, can lead to hearing loss over time. Prolonged exposure to high noise levels without proper hearing protection can cause irreversible damage. Regular noise assessments, engineering controls, hearing protection devices, and education on the importance of hearing conservation are crucial to mitigating this occupational health risk.
- Respiratory Issues: Manufacturing processes often involve exposure to various airborne hazards such as dust, fumes, gases, and chemicals. Workers in metalworking, welding, painting, or chemical handling may be particularly susceptible to respiratory issues like occupational asthma, bronchitis, or pneumoconiosis. Proper ventilation, personal protective equipment (PPE), and adherence to safe handling practices can help reduce the risk of respiratory problems.
- Skin Disorders: Employees in the manufacturing sector are frequently exposed to chemicals, solvents, oils, and other irritants that can cause skin problems. Dermatitis, eczema, and contact allergies are common skin disorders encountered in manufacturing environments. Implementing effective personal hygiene practices, providing protective gloves and clothing, and promoting proper handwashing can mitigate the risk of skin-related health issues.
- Mental Health Challenges: The manufacturing sector’s demanding nature, fast-paced environment, and sometimes high-pressure production targets can impact employees’ mental wellbeing. Stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout can emerge as common mental health challenges. Companies can support employees’ mental health by fostering a positive work culture, promoting work-life balance, providing access to counselling services, and creating channels for open communication.
- Occupational Injuries: Manufacturing environments encompass various hazards, including slips, trips, falls, and accidents involving machinery or equipment. These accidents can result in injuries ranging from minor cuts and bruises to severe fractures or amputations. Rigorous training, implementation of safety protocols, regular equipment maintenance, and the use of personal protective equipment are essential preventive measures to reduce the occurrence of occupational injuries.
- Shift Work and Sleep Disorders: Manufacturing operations often require shift work to ensure continuous production. However, irregular working hours and disrupted sleep patterns can lead to sleep disorders, fatigue, and decreased alertness. Employers can address this issue by providing education on healthy sleep habits, offering regular breaks, and considering rotating shift schedules to minimise the impact on employees’ sleep patterns.
The manufacturing sector presents unique occupational health challenges that need to be effectively managed to protect the wellbeing of workers. By addressing the common health issues mentioned above, manufacturing companies can create safer and healthier workplaces. Proactive measures, including risk assessments, implementing appropriate controls, providing training, and promoting a culture of safety, are key to ensuring the long-term health and wellbeing of manufacturing employees.
Combining our clinical and business expertise, we can work with you to understand and evaluate your business needs and its health challenges to develop a truly tailored occupational health strategy that works. If you would like to discuss any of our services in more detail please get in touch with us today, alternatively why not try our new Business Health Evaluation Tool to determine your occupational health needs. It saves you money and time; and we will help you to assess your requirements.
If you would rather come and meet us in person to discuss your company needs we have Drop-in sessions available to book and we would love to meet you.