Volume 20 Number 5 - May 3, 2022

My mission is simple. I am devoted to enabling people working in manufacturing to recognize and achieve their potential; through that each of you contributes to an improved quality of life for all you touch. Mission matters. That of your business, and yours personally.

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Computer Vision and Safety

As the volunteer Disruptive Technologies track leader for this fall’s in person Association for Manufacturing Excellence Conference in Dallas Texas, I am examining many examples of current technologies that are improving manufacturing businesses.

Now focusing on technology to improve safety, I’ve discovered some interesting dichotomies. We’ve had light curtains, safety buttons on machines, and warning signs for decades, but still, injuries occur. Those are the basics of the basics.

In Dallas I want to share practitioners who have dramatically improved safety using technologies developed for that purpose. I’m less interested in the secondary benefit of safety. I’m looking for safety as the primary benefit, with other aspects as secondary benefits.

Why that order? Because safety should never be secondary.

Safer operations always have better processes, higher quality, lower costs, and more.

The post for one safety-oriented technology said:

“Nearly a third of workplace ill health is caused by musculoskeletal injuries - computer-vision can detect and warn workers of poor posture that might cause these injuries.”

My friend and safety expert Bob Hafey pointed out that this technology focuses on the person, as if he is the problem. In fact, it is the process design that is the problem.

The worker doesn’t need a fancy computer-vision reenactment to tell him about back pain on the job. Or that he must reach too far.  Those are requirements of the job as currently designed.

So why did you design it that way? I’m sure you don’t intend for workers to incur injuries.

If your manufacturing and process engineers are not trained in ergonomics, we can hardly blame them for designing production systems that harm worker health.

Why not make the first priority in the design, selection, implementation of any equipment or production process absolutely no worker injuries? Not production workers, maintenance workers, material handlers, or engineers. Not cuts, burns or soft tissue.

Another video I watched showed construction workers belted to devices intended to prevent falls as they move heavy materials around. Why not automate the moving of the heavy materials, or find lighter but equally effective materials?

What we can see obviously is often not the problem. That’s why root cause analysis and 5-Why were developed. But instead of using those tools to solve injury problems, why not design systems to prevent injuries?

Before you sign one more capital expenditure request, insist that you are confident that all safety aspects are addressed in the equipment, its planned location, its use, and its maintenance. This is much faster and more effective to address before you have bought and placed the equipment.

Now, walk through your operations. Look only for ergnonomic problems. It’s easy to get sidetracked by other safety challenges. Those also need to be addressed, but they are easier to see.

One day per week, walk through looking only at ergonomics. Ask the worker what parts of the work are painful or uncomfortable. Ask what ideas they have to change the work environment so none of it is painful or uncomfortable.

Recordable is one case. Near-miss another. But soft tissue injuries are often the result of accumulated stress.

Before you suspect a worker of faking back pain to get time off work, do his job.

While there are certainly technologies that can improve safety (governors on your tow motors; flashing lights when a change in floor height is approaching, etc….) there is much you can do simply by caring.

Don’t break your own heart or an employee’s health.

The Starting Pistol

Ray Kroc:
"The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves."

The Tape

Rebecca Morgan:
"You want follow through? Follow through. You want critical thinking? Think critically. You want innovation? Be innovative. Those three examples fit together well."

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