How the aerospace sector can return back to work safely
12 July 2021
As employees return back to work in aerospace supply chains, industry leaders such as Airbus and Boeing are announcing plans to scale up aircraft production in a bold move towards post-pandemic recovery. Health and safety reform is top of the list as employers seek to optimise workplace productivity while ensuring compliance with national governments’ return-to-work policies for manufacturing (e.g., see the advice of the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE)).
In this blog, we’ll explore the key health and safety policies that the aerospace manufacturing sector must introduce as its employees return back to work.
The relationship between safety and productivity
Aerospace leaders are becoming increasingly aware of the relationship between employee safety culture, employee wellbeing and productivity in supply chains. As Airbus and Boeing eye ambitious manufacturing targets for 2022 - 2024, analysts are calling for widescale reform to supply chain management in the wake of severe disruptions caused by the pandemic.
By adopting a mature and 360-degree approach to safety culture and facilities management, the aerospace sector can embolden its (currently fragile) supply chains to avoid further lockdowns and meet the ambitious challenges ahead.
Prevention and planning ahead
There is a persuasive argument that manufacturing needs to move away from a culture of urgency and immediacy (the “just-in-time” philosophy) to a more careful and forward-thinking strategy (with the help of automation/ big data). In the same vein, health and safety managers in the supply chain should also be prepared to transform their processes to prevent, as much as possible, the threat of future lockdowns.
Top measures to implement for employees’ return back to work:
Employers in aerospace manufacturing must address the following health and safety points:
- Ventilation. Employers must supply adequate ventilation (a.k.a fresh air) to enclosed spaces where employees are working. For example, windows, doors and vents provide ‘natural ventilation’. Fans and ducts provide ‘mechanical ventilation’.
- Put in social distancing measures. Create an environment in which it is easy for everyone to do so. This can be achieved via signage, the use of one-way systems and workstations that are spread out. Barriers can be used to separate staff. Consider using back-to-back or side-to-side working. Also, try to limit the number of people who use certain equipment at the same time including: passenger lifts; temporary suspended access platforms e.g., construction hoists and painters’ cradles; and multi-user mobile plants e.g., mobile elevated work platforms and scissor lifts.
- Clean more frequently. Ensure that special attention is given to surfaces and machinery that are touched most often. Put up signs that ask employees, contractors and visitors to sanitise their hands and wash them frequently. You should ideally provide sanitiser throughout the building, especially at the entrance and in the canteen area.
- Face coverings. Introduce signage that prompts visitors and staff to wear masks/face coverings while indoors. Exemptions should be made for those who cannot do so for health reasons.
- Reduce numbers. If possible, only bring in people who are essential for your operations.
- Prevent crowding.One way of doing this is to divide the work site into smaller zones in order to maintain separation between groups. Employers should consider how many people can realistically be in each zone while staying socially distanced.
- Work alongside the same people every day. Shift patterns help to lower the amount of people each person comes into contact with.
- Clean shared equipment. It’s a good idea to limit the number of people who use shared tools—if that’s possible. Also shared tools and machinery should be cleaned often.
- Communication of updates. Ensure that all workers, visitors and contractors are aware of new or adapted safety measures.
Focus on machinery safety
Assess the condition and safety of any machinery that has been lying dormant for an extended period. When machines lie inactive, they are prone to rust and corrosion which can damage parts and create safety risks for users.
In order to mitigate risks associated with machinery, perform a detailed assessment prior to relaunching production.
- Visual checks. Conduct a visual check of the structural framework of your equipment to ensure that the condition of the bolted joints, bonded structure, cast components and paint are to the required standard.
- Inspect with touch and smell. Closely examine the machinery for any signs of rust, delayering or deformation.
- Run a functional test. observe whether any moving parts are in distress while a machine is operating.
- Corrective measures. Once the inspection is complete, take any corrective measures and ensure a full audit trail for any actions taken.
You should check that all machines were initially shut down correctly before ensuring that all safety devices and process operations sequence correctly and function reliably. For this to be achieved, you should:
- not rely on full reassurance of safety and process control devices until recommissioning is complete.
- produce a written recommissioning plan that identifies the hazards and the correct method for the work to be completed.
- ensure that a competent engineer devises written instructions that other members of staff can easily understand.
- ensure that appropriate supervision is in place.
As the aerospace sector gets set to ramp up its production in the coming years, safety culture needs to remain high on the priority list for industry leaders. With advanced planning and consideration of risks, organisations can mitigate – if not totally eliminate – the threat of another lockdown while enhancing employee safety culture more broadly. Looking ahead, facilities managers have an essential role to play in helping employees across the sector to return back to work safely.
Coronavirus advice for manufacturing supply chains
Our 4-step guide provides crucial and targeted coronavirus advice for employers in manufacturing.Download your #ReturnToWork guide for manufacturing
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