whirlpool warehouse

June is National Safety Month: Why investing in safety is a sound business decision

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whirlpool warehouse
Safety at Whirlpool a top priority. Picture courtesy of Seegrid

Three in 10 American workers acquire disability prior to retirement. Thomas R. Cutler looks more closely at the issue of safety in the workplace 

June is National Safety Month which focuses on reducing the leading causes of injury and death at work. Safety is a deliberate act and investing in safety is a sound business decision.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 1 million workers suffer back injuries each year, and account for one of every five workplace injuries or illnesses. A quarter of all compensation indemnity claims involve back injuries, costing industry billions of dollars on top of the pain and suffering borne by employees.

Injuries are avoidable and innovation and automation are part of the safety paradigm this month, during National Safety Month, and for many years to come. 

While no approach has been found for totally eliminating back injuries caused by lifting, workforce health and safety is paramount and data clearly shows that repetitive lifting, lowering, and moving injuries costs businesses millions of dollars each year. Automating those tasks significantly reduces the potential for injuries and costly downtime. Robotics and automation are clearly part of the safety solution.

Injuries are on the rise. The National Safety Council (NSC) reports that a disabling injury occurs every 1.3 seconds in the US (more than 63,000 every day), and the Social Security Administration predicts that 3 out of 10 workers entering the workforce today will acquire some type of disability before they retire. Prevention from these injuries is critical for all businesses and their employees.

The NSC reports that a single work-related disabling injury now costs an employer an average of $58,000. The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) estimates that medical costs comprise more than half of the overall costs of a lost-time claim, and that number keeps climbing.

Beyond the safety consideration is travel time

Travel time is wasted time in materials handling; reclaim it with driverless vehicles that deliver product without human guidance. Consider the time between the loading of a pallet and its arrival at a destination – this equates to too many miles and minutes. Those minutes are dead time for a warehouse worker, time spent “in transit” between value-add points where loading, picking or other operations are done. Like freeways during heavy commutes times, the warehouse, distribution, or manufacturing plant worker is stuck in traffic jams during those minutes. Commutation on the plant floor is a calculation.

If a worker is driving pallets around 15 times a day at 3 minutes per transaction, that represents 45 minutes a day the worker is basically idle, non-productive. Driverless vehicles can free that worker, recapture those 45 minutes a day of travel time.

Seegrid vision-guided vehicles
Seegrid vision-guided vehicles

Seegrid driverless vehicles, which they call vision guided vehicles (VGVs), have a robust visual guidance system enhanced with safety sensors for consistently safe operation. They “learn” multiple routes up to 15 miles of information. By inputting pre-planned drop stops, selection stations, and return points, driverless vehicles complete routes without human guidance.

Jeff Christensen, VP, products and services for Seegrid, says: “Vision guided vehicles deliver continuous parts to assembly and kitting stations, reducing idle times and increasing downstream velocity. VGVs provide flexibility for process or floor layout workflows without changes to infrastructure. Seasonal production spikes are greatly improved as these driverless vehicles can run non-stop and can fill in to ensure production throughput is met.”

When safety yields cost reductions and fewer workflow disruptions, a win/win occurs. No runners are needed and a reduction in traditional forklift usage and labor costs are achieved. With improved inventory handling, waiting times for parts or order picking are reduced along with inventory deficits.

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