We recently reported one of the most positive stories I can remember in our 31-year history: The U.S. plastics industry is becoming a safer place to work.
Steve Toloken crunched the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data and discovered that injury and illness rates in plastics processing plants have dropped about 20 percent in the last decade. The rate in 2018 fell to a record low of 3.8 cases per 100 full-time equivalent workers. Just 10 years ago, the rate was 5.1 per 100 workers.
Some of the credit goes to improving safety in all manufacturing plants. According to the National Safety Council, the injury rate for manufacturing across the board has fallen from 4.3 to 3.4 between 2009-18. NSC credits workers' compensation laws, government oversight through agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, safety training and attempts to promote safety culture in organizations.
Drilling down more specifically into plastics, it's also possible that strategies that identify and address "near misses" are helping to improve safety, according to the Plastics Industry Association in Washington.
There is one significant caveat: According to the BLS data, smaller plastics factories remain much more dangerous places to work than larger facilities.
Employees at plastics plants with between 50 and 249 workers were nearly twice as likely to be injured on the job, according to the government data.
That's proof that, with more professional attention and more resources to invest in automation and technology, there's still room for smaller firms to improve.
Safety must be every company's top priority. It is encouraging to see progress. Let's stay vigilant and continue to improve.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.