Plastics processing is getting safer but still has a long way to go. The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the incidence of lost workday injuries and illnesses declined in 1998 for the sixth year in a row—but only by a quarter of the percentage improvement for all manufacturing industries. The occupational injury and illness rate for plastics processing remained 17% higher than the manufacturing average. That is actually worse than in 1997, when plastics had a 14% higher-than-average injury and illness rate. But it is an improvement over 1996, when the plastics rate was 27% higher than the average, and 1992, when plastics workers were hurt or sick 33% more often. In ’99, Plastics Plumbing Fixtures was number eight on the list of 70 most injury-prone industry segments.
Sixteen plastics-processing workers were killed on the job in 1998 and 15 in 1999. Although plastics employs fewer than 5% of all manufacturing workers, it accounted for around 20% of the total manufacturing workplace fatalities in those years. Not an enviable record.
Safety is ultimately a management responsibility. For years I have heard that too many plastics managers have resisted adopting machinery safety standards that the industry worked hard to develop. Next month, we will report on the newest of those consensus standards, the first ever to cover take-offs in film, sheet, and extrusion coating. Now that those rules are published, you can’t legally ignore them. You owe it to your workers to take them seriously.