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Overlooked safety risks along the supply chain

What are some commonly missed safety risks in supply chains?


Responding is Laurie Knape, CSP, ASP, CLCS, EHS professional, regulatory and industry relations, Avetta, Houston.

Adhering to strict safety and health protocols can help supply chain stakeholders maintain oversight, maximize productivity and ensure employee well-being.

Although some risks are well-known and planned for, others receive less attention. Here are six commonly missed safety risks along the supply chain, and why they matter.

1. Slips, trips and falls

You may have steps in place to keep your workplace clear of trip hazards. You secure or suspend cords and hoses, clean up spills immediately, and try to keep aisles free of obstruction. Blocked aisles can be a result of slowly allowing items to extend or flow out of their boundaries. This overflow can be highly hazardous when it blocks emergency pull stations, fire extinguishers and emergency exits.

Yet, it’s important to make sure you’re following established protocols in those areas. You can reference Safety Data Sheets, OSHA standards and industry guidelines to understand how to handle risks such as combustible dust, diesel spills, inefficient lighting and sawdust hazards.

Assess the common slip and fall risks around your facility, and research how to address them.

2. Communication

Clear communication facilitates teamwork, improves productivity and keeps employees safe. Don’t assume that it’s been accomplished, even if you have a dedicated plan in place. Train leaders on how to listen actively, communicate fluidly and follow up correctly. In addition, have in place guidelines on how employees request and access information, as well as how training sessions are conducted.

Increasingly, an important part of optimizing communication has become eliminating technology-related distractions. Establish a strong cellphone policy that dictates when and where employees can use their devices.

3. Risk assessment

Most organizations perform risk assessments for non-routine tasks. We suggest performing them for routine workflows, too.

When introducing a new worker or process, complete this step to determine the resources you need to optimize the outcome, including tools, knowledge and training. Create a systematic evaluation to monitor how employees interact with one another, as well as the systems and software they’re deploying. Discern the types of hazards that may be present, and put steps in place to mitigate them.

4. Lone workers

Whether on a daily job or called out for an emergency, lone workers face a variety of hazards that include environmental, equipment, potential violence, transportation and working at height. Protocols should be in place to maximize their safety. This includes creating a check-in/checkout system, deploying wearable technology and designating a point of contact who’s aware of the lone worker’s schedule. Schedulers should also understand where high-crime areas exist and avoid dispatching lone workers to those locations when possible.

5. Ergonomics

Most employers complete ergonomic evaluations when they first set up their employees’ workstations. In addition, you should reassess conditions every time you change equipment, assembly lines or workbenches.

Likewise, check in with your employees and routinely evaluate their physical situation. Determine if you need to adjust their equipment to accommodate their needs.

The NIOSH Lifting Equation mobile app and other tools can assist you in setting up and maintaining workstations. The app calculates each worker’s task, evaluates the risk and recommends adaptations to help prevent musculoskeletal injury.

6. Stress

If experienced in excess, stress can negatively affect an employee’s physical and mental health. When people are overwhelmed, they’re less capable of following standard processes and procedures. This can lead to incidents, injuries and even fatalities.

At the same time, a complete lack of stress can be equally damaging, creating an environment in which workers feel bored, distracted or cynical.

The key to striking that balance is monitoring workplace well-being. Identify risk factors and provide resources that can help employees manage stress in a healthy way. A mix of personal resilience, peer support and manager support can improve outcomes and prevent burnout.

Although hundreds of hazards can affect your workplace, these six risks are commonly missed and often mismanaged. Addressing them with new tools and strategies can help reduce incidents and better protect workers.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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