How 3M is making the workplace safer
Look at the figures and you’ll soon realise the value that safety plays in business success. In 2016/2017, the government reported there were 1.3 million workers suffering from a work-related illness, 137 fatal injuries and 609,000 non-fatal injuries to workers; resulting in a staggering 31.2 million lost working days.1
By putting a priority on safety in the workplace, profitability, productivity and staff retention can be significantly improved. 3M is leading the charge in this respect with its advanced and innovative product ranges across many sectors. Looking beyond the products, another key aspect that differentiates 3M is its Application Engineers; local experts who provide help and training to end-users, wherever they are.
We spoke with product experts to find out more about 3M’s attitude to health and safety with new product development. From talking to them, it was quickly apparent that their concern went a lot further than just meeting regulations. These experts shared a real passion for health and safety and they seemed to be constantly looking for new ways to make a difference.
Education and information is a key focus for Dr Antonio Pagliuca, senior specialist in structural adhesives at 3M. When using liquid adhesives, it is important to know how to use them safely. As Antonio notes: "Adhesives in their liquid state are active chemicals, and that's why we create MSDSs (Material Safety Data Sheets) for all our products. That means these products can be used safely by following the correct control measures as deemed by a Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) and other appropriate risk assessments.
"In normal use, there are generally few issues with an adhesive once it's fully cured and solid. It's that initial period when you're applying the products that you need to take precautions. Always start by reading the MSDS that we provide, this will give you invaluable information about any risks involved with the product. Then you need to conduct a thorough risk assessment that complies with COSHH – you may need to seek expert help with this. The process will highlight things you need to address, and you can use a variety of measures to control the risks and reduce exposures. This could be working in well-ventilated areas, for example, or maybe using Local Exhaust Ventilation. Personal protective equipment (PPE) should always be the last step in this process but, as a minimum, gloves and safety eyewear should be used."
Often, Antonio provides bespoke support: "We'll advise customers on how to apply adhesives, how to use the products as part of a bigger manufacturing process – including robotics or bulk application equipment – and sometimes we’ll also help customers with their designs."
Billy Brady is a senior technical assistant in Adhesives at 3M in the UK and Ireland. He is quick to emphasise that 3M tapes are very safe products; they're basically chemically inert. They are unlikely to cause harm to anyone. 3M does have a policy going back over 40 years now, which is about trying to make products use fewer resources, fewer solvents, and create less waste.
According to Brady: “If you just focus on the VHB range of industrial tapes, there have been over 80 different products since the first one was introduced over 35 years ago. The new General Purpose High-Temperature tape (GPH) is the latest. It’s a good all-round tape. Compare it with using rivets and it’s far safer because you’re not using drills that can cause repetitive strain injury (RSI) or rivet guns or spot welding, both of which come with their own dangers. Bonding things together is much safer than using other traditional methods.”
Health risks of a different kind are the preoccupation of Theo Simon who works in Abrasive Technology, looking after the 3M™ Cubitron™ II and 7 Series Fibre Disks.
He explains: “You can wear a respirator to protect you from dust. You can wear safety eyewear to protect you from flying debris. You can wear earplugs to protect you from noise. Those are particularly obvious risks. A risk that is more difficult to address is hand-arm vibration. Most competitor products are unable to offer anything to reduce hand-arm vibration.”
These views and values inform every area of the 3M product offering, including personal protective equipment. Around 12,000 deaths a year in the UK can be put down to past exposure to airborne hazards at work1. Respirators can play an important part in reducing that number if they're selected and used properly.
Respirators are used in a variety of sectors, including metalworking. There are many potential hazards for the people who produce the metal and also for those who work with it. Cutting, grinding or welding will all produce airborne hazards.
In most industries with respiratory hazards, a hierarchy control is used, with respirators generally being at the bottom of the list. Companies should always try to control the hazard through other means first. The construction industry is different as the types of extraction systems used in factories are not practical on a construction or demolition site. That means respiratory protective equipment tends to be more relied upon.
In pharmaceutical production, the hazards vary depending on the stage of the process. There are times where people are working with the active ingredients, where they're concerned about tiny amounts of a hazard getting into the air. In these situations, there will be very high levels of controls, but workers often still need to use respiratory protective equipment to eliminate the hazard.
What is clear from observing 3M’s passion for safety and talking to their product experts is that they always look further than the official standards, going above and beyond to ensure that every aspect of safety in the workplace is considered.
This proactive attitude is encapsulated by the Science of Safety programme, run by 3M, which is an industry-leading overarching programme designed to raise awareness of health and safety issues.
Another important initiative is the 3M Academy. This is a range of online training modules which is available to customers. The modules cover topics from hazard awareness and product selection, through to fit testing care and maintenance. Webinars are also regularly delivered in a variety of languages on ‘hot topics’ at national and regional levels.
It’s not just about keeping employees out of danger, it’s also a focus on making their tasks less strenuous and more efficient. When that’s achieved, it’s not just the employees who benefit. The businesses will also reap the rewards of a happier, safer, more productive workforce.