The manufacturing supply chain is a complex system of delivery and demand, stretching across the industry from the acquisition of raw materials through to the shipment of products to consumers.

Ensuring this process runs smoothly is an immense task, made no easier by the constant threat of potential occupational health and safety (OHS) issues. Employees at every step along the supply chain are facing some form of risk, whether through factory operations or dangers on the road during freight, for example.

Understanding the hazards present in the manufacturing supply chain is an important factor in avoiding costly and time-consuming accidents. Disruptions to this process can have significant repercussions for the business as a whole, so it is vital that any potential interruptions are minimised or avoided.

Modern supply chains often require manufacturing employers to monitor health and safety beyond the boundaries of a single company. Many businesses can be involved in a single supply chain, however the focal company – overseeing the entire operation – has a responsibility to monitor and address any risks to workplace wellbeing.

While there are many complicated steps within a legitimate manufacturing supply chain, here is just a simple overview of operations and the OHS risks employees within this industry could face at each step.

Raw material suppliers

The specific risks facing raw material suppliers can vary significantly, depending on the manufactured product and the sector in which the goods will complete their supply chain journey.

From farming to mining, the industries that supply raw materials to manufacturers all present particular hazards to employee health and safety. In particular, individuals working in these fields may require OHS training to protect themselves against the risk of handling hazardous materials, working in confined spaces and operating heavy machinery.

In most cases, the organisation overseeing the supply chain will engage a secondary company to supply raw materials. This means that the responsibility to provide employees with training will rest on the supplier, rather than the manufacturer. However, if employing individual suppliers as contractors, education and OHS outcomes will fall into the overseer's jurisdiction.

Inbound logistics

The pickup, transport and delivery of raw materials to factories and plants can be a complicated process and provide serious risks to employee health and wellbeing.

In particular, transporting hazardous substances – such as chemicals and corrosive or unstable liquids – is a significantly dangerous process that requires all involved employees to undertake extensive training.

Drivers, handlers and receivers should all access education, permits and qualifications related to the transport, storage and use of hazardous materials. This includes correctly fitting breathing apparatus and the clean-up of spills.

As dangerous substances are often moved in tanks and enclosed trailers, undertaking confined spaces training is highly recommended. This competency will ensure that all employees within the inbound logistics chain can safely identify and respond to potentially hazardous atmospheres, which is crucial if unstable materials release toxic gases, for example.

The inbound logistics team should also be offered training related to traffic control and management to ensure that drivers can safely operate trucks and other moving machinery, such as forklifts.

This is crucial for the loading and delivery of materials, as manoeuvring trucks and equipment in factory spaces can be a complex and difficult process.

Manufacturing

Once the raw materials have been delivered and stored in the manufacturing plant, the operations that follow can pose significant risks to employee health and wellbeing.

For instance, the machinery required to process raw materials and create end products are typically built with various moving parts that can trap, crush or cut any person that does not take due caution.

Other potential hazards include working in confined spaces, handling hazardous materials and being exposed to continued noise and dust. Each of these risks can be addressed by accessing the relevant safety training and ensuring correct procedures are followed at all times.

Warehouses and factories contain many potential risks to employees. Correct personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn at all times. This includes strong, enclosed footwear to avoid injury if an individual were to accidentally step on or drop dangerous materials and tight-fitted clothing to reduce the risk of being caught in machinery and equipment.

Outbound logistics

Similar to the inbound transport process, outbound freight practices need to be closely monitored to ensure health and safety outcomes are protected.

The movement of trucks, forklifts and employees within a factory and yard creates serious OHS hazards, so accessing traffic management training should be a key consideration in the process. This will ensure that drivers, manufacturers and other workers can all occupy the same space safely, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries.

The importance of OHS training

Continuous training is a key element to protecting health and safety in the manufacturing supply chain. Refreshing employees on their duties regarding OHS outcomes will ensure that they not only remain aware of the potential risks, but can also be updated if hazards change or develop during the course of their employment.

Not all training needs to be accessed in a classroom. Informal discussions, reminders and supervision can all be used to promote OHS in the workplace. This is particularly important when dealing with employees from multiple organisations, as is often the case through the manufacturing supply chain.

However, if you do want to access training for your company's supply chain workers, there are many potential programs available that can improve safety in manufacturing. For instance, all employees can benefit from traffic management courses to raise awareness of the dangers of working in close quarters with trucks, forklifts and other moving machinery.

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