Facility Identification

Making the right choices affects your bottom line because a properly marked facility has better ROI.

YOU can increase productivity and reduce downtime in your plant by applying a systematic facility identification program. If you think this is an expensive proposition, the alternative--downtime, errors, and injuries--can be much more costly. You realize cost benefits through a reduction in process and production errors and fewer lost time accidents.

We all know how important a safe workplace environment is. A key contributor to a safe environment is an informed workforce. Proper facility identification puts important information about a potential hazard exactly where it's needed, and all employees have the information communicated to them simply by reading a sign.

Accidents can be avoided or minimized with proper facility identification. When safety procedures are readily available, most worker-initiated accidents can be reduced. If an accident does occur, the extent of loss can be minimized with workers well trained in accident response procedures. For example, clearly marked escape routes help evacuate all workers from a hazardous area faster and more efficiently, reducing the risk of additional injury.

Clear facility identification should be an integral part of your risk management program. It is a useful tool to contain insurance costs and to address regulatory compliance needs.

Where to Begin
To start assessing your plant's needs, review any safety and productivity initiatives already under way or under consideration. Determine how clear facility marking can eliminate unsafe confusion, cut wasteful search time, and reduce operator errors.

Code compliance is critical to any plant. OSHA regulations go into great detail about clear identification of potential hazards and mandate procedures and practices to control the hazards. A good working knowledge of OSHA requirements that apply to your plant is critical to assessing its identification needs. If you or your staff don?t have this expertise, it?s best to call in an outside identification expert who does have it. Many companies offer OSHA compliance training materials to help you and your staff keep up with compliance issues.

Individual industries also have their own safety standards--some highly formalized, some just practices generally acknowledged in that industry. Not meeting those standards can seriously increase your liability assessment in the event of an accident.

After thoroughly reviewing relevant safety standards, industry best practices, and internal initiatives, you're ready to start a facility audit.

Conducting a Facility Audit
Before starting your audit, you have a basic decision to make: Should your own personnel perform the audit or should you bring in an outside expert? There are pros and cons to either option.

Having your own employees conduct the audit and assess your plant's needs allows the project to be done with available internal resources. This can be a good use of employee downtime, helping reduce outside expenditures. Compliance audit checklists can help guide your internal auditors.

However, there are some possible disadvantages to internal audits. Your staff may not have a proper knowledge base or training regarding regulatory compliance. And they may be unsure about how to approach a complex labeling project. Consequently, important items can be inadvertently overlooked. If the project is a second or third priority for the employees involved, inconsistent or erratic planning could produce results that are less than expected. And in most busy work settings, the project may take too long to accomplish due to limited employee availability.

An alternative is for an outside consultant to conduct your on-site facility assessment and audit. Some advantages to this approach are the assurance that the assessment will be conducted in a professional, thorough manner and that regulatory needs will be addressed by professionals trained in compliance. The assessment will be completed within a scheduled time and will identify quickly where you are "out of compliance."

After conducting the audit, the consultant will be familiar with your facility and can be a resource for revisions in the future. A professional needs assessment also makes for an easier "internal sell" of your labeling program. But, of course, there is a price for this service, with additional outside expenditure.

Implementation Options: Where Do We Go from Here?
Your audit is complete, and you have in hand a long list of identification needs for your pipes, valves, machines, circuits, etc. How do you get it implemented efficiently without disrupting production? Again, choose from in-house or outside.

A turnkey service provided by an outside consultant can be the most cost and time effective for a large, complex facility identification project. You are assured that your facility identification will be consistent and in compliance. Implementation is completed on time by professionals who guarantee their materials and installation.

If your identification needs aren't so complex, you may want your own personnel to implement the project. So where do you get your signs and labels? Will you make them internally or buy them from a sign/label maker?

Making your own custom labels using an industrial label maker
Whether you are considering implementing your whole plant identification program in-house or will have the need to produce signage on an as-needed basis, a high-quality industrial label maker is a good investment. When an immediate need arises, you have the capability to produce a sign almost instantly that communicates cautionary or other important information to your workforce.

In choosing a label maker, consider ease of use, size and color flexibility, and quality and availability of materials used. Be sure to choose an industrial label maker that produces labels that will stand up in your environment.

Some of the advantages to making your own custom labels and signs are:

  • Per label cost savings--no shipping costs.
  • One-of-a-kind signs are especially cost-effective to produce internally.
  • Produce labels on the spot when needed.
  • As changes are needed, they can be made quickly and economically.
  • Labels/signs will look more consistent (consistent labeling is as important as labeling itself).
  • No need to wait for signs on order to arrive.
  • No extensive training or knowledge of printing is required.
  • Newer industrial sign-making software supports OSHA, industrial, and commercial applications.
  • High-quality industrial materials have longevity.
  • Special application materials are available

Purchasing off-the-shelf and/or custom signs
If you don't want to make your own custom signs in-house, then you'll want to buy your signs from a reputable sign and label maker. This can be most cost effective for multiple copies of identical signs or labels, but it is not as time effective as producing a sign on the spot. Also, if you don't order all of your signs at the same time, you may have a problem with consistency with other facility signage.

A Complete Identification Program Uses Multiple Resources
Many facility managers will find that the most cost effective, convenient program combines all three options:

  • Bring in outside resources when you need them for major projects.
  • Order off-the-shelf for multiple copies of identical labels or signs.
  • Have a high-quality industrial label maker to print on demand.

However you choose to accomplish your plant's identification needs assessment and implementation, keep in mind their importance. They can directly affect your bottom line.

This article originally appeared in the June 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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