Safety best practices for small and medium enterprises

A study carried out in 30 SMEs mainly in Mumbai, Maharashtra and a few other states, randomly chosen to evaluate safety practices, examined the barriers and drivers for technological innovation and recommended best practices on safety issues. Primary data collection was done in 30 units in 2013–14 and secondary data was collected from reports from organizations such as World Health Organization, Ministry of MSMEs, electronic data bases such as Science Direct, Wiley and Open Access Journals. The primary data included information from the SMEs on improving safety based on their experiences and secondary data were collected from open access websites and journals based on best practices in safety. Based on this, the study prepared a set of recommendations for best safety practices for SMEs. The authors of the report on the study say that the recommendations have “been segregated using different facilities/operations in the industries such as machine operation, welding and cutting operation, hand tool operation, grinding dust and hazardous fumes, electrical work, fire safety, storage of materials, manual handling, housekeeping and PPE along with the hazards associated with the operations and recommendations on the respective hazard.

Recommendations for safety best practices for small and medium enterprises

No. Equipment/facility Hazards Recommendations
1Machine operation machine operation In-running nips, moving parts, risk of cut, crush
  • There must be safety interlocks on high
  • temperature and pressurized machines
  • Use of guards, interlock switches, and dead
  • man's handles to ensure the machines cannot
  • be operated when moving parts are exposed
  • Machines must undergo regular servicing and maintenance
2Welding and cutting operationwelding cutting Gas welding and cutting tools are often powered
by oxygen or acetylene gas cylinders. These tanks require special safety precautions to prevent explosions and serious injuries Metal fumes, radiation, hot metals and noise
  • There must be safety interlocks on high temperature and pressurized machines
  • Use of guards, interlock switches and dead man's handles to ensure the machines cannot be operated when moving parts are exposed
  • Machines must undergo regular servicing and maintenance
  • Use of PPE
  • General ventilation and exhaust system
  • Ensure that acetylene/oxygen systems are equipped with flame or flashback arrestors Store acetylene bottles upright and secured
  • Set acetylene pressure at or below 15 psi Always use the minimum acceptable flow rate Never use a match to light a torch Use an approved lighter
3Hand tool operationhand tool operation Excessive use of hand tools is associated with chronic disorders of the hand, wrist and forearm, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and wrist tendonitis
  • Hand tool should match the task that the user is doing
  • Hand tool design should:
    • Reduce the force of application
    • Fit the users hand
    • Can be used in a comfortable position
  • Hand tools should be well maintained
4Grinding dust and hazardous fumesgrinding Very dangerous to health, especially beryllium or parts used in nuclear systems Inhalation of the dust and fumes goes into the lungs and mixed with blood Effect is temporary sickness to death
  • Use of respirator to avoid inhaling the dust. Use of coolant during grinding
  • These materials require careful control of grinding dust
5Electrical workElectrical work Short circuits caused by wear and tear and poor servicing
  • Lock out and tag out
  • Regular maintenance of equipment and machines
6Fire safetyFire safety Fire hazard
  • Electrical equipment must be regularly serviced
  • Combustible materials must be stored safely
  • There must be adequate and appropriate firefighting equipment
  • Firefighting equipment must be serviced and certificated
  • Fire alarm points must be clearly signed and accessible
  • Fire exits and escape routes must be clearly signposted, unobstructed and unlocked
  • There must be a fire assembly point a safe distance from the factory, with frequent, random fire drills carried out
  • Smoking must be banned in working areas of the factory
7Storage of materialsStorage of materials Slip, trip, fall, fire hazard
  • The location of the stockpiles should not interfere with work
  • Stored materials should allow at least one meter of clear space under sprinkler heads
  • Stored materials should not obstruct movement
  • Storage areas should be clearly marked
  • Flammable, combustible, toxic and other hazardous materials should be stored in approved containers in designated areas
8Manual handlingManual handling Acute and chronic injuries, slip disc, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and other types of injury
  • Not exceeding load lifting limit
  • Designing proper work rest schedule
  • No employee should be required to routinely work above their shoulder height, below their knees or at full reach distance
9HousekeepingHousekeeping Poor housekeeping can result in an increased risk of injury due to slip, trips and falls, together with injuries resulting from hitting stationary objects, are reduced
  • Areas to be kept clean and free for movement
  • Items should be stored correctly with no parts protruding on to walkways
  • Electrical chords should not be on the floor
  • Tools should have designated areas for storage and bins for waste should be readily available and be easy to empty
10Personal protective equipment (PPE)Personal protective equipment Inadequate unavailable
  • Appropriate PPE must be provided and worn. Wherever possible, the need for PPE should be removed by automating or using engineered safety features on machinery (such as interlock switches); Saf Health Work. 2015 Mar; 6(1): 46–55. Published online 2014 Nov 4. doi: 10.1016/; PMCID: PMC4371889; Safety Management Practices in Small and Medium Enterprises in India; Seema Unnikrishnan, Rauf Iqbal, Anju Singh (Department of Industrial Safety and Environmental Management, National Institute of Industrial Engineering (NITIE) and Indrayani M. Nimkar (Center for Environmental Studies, National Institute of Industrial Engineering, NITIE)

Practical implications and best practices

Safety issues in the process technology according to the survey:

  • Encouragement by employers to use PPE even during small operations, regular counseling and audits at regular intervals by the officials, and adopting and maintaining the standard operating procedures for every operation carried out in the unit.
  • Adequate inspection and testing of electrical installations and equipment.
  • Proper housekeeping, such as removal of metal scrap to avoid any accidents. Scrap should be sold only to government-certified scrap disposal companies. Most of the units have also recommended implementation of 5S: sorting (Seiri), streamlining (Seiton), systematic cleaning (Seiso), standardize (Seiketsu) and sustain (Shitsuke).
  • In working sites, the safety and environmental policy must be written down and maintained regularly.
  • Some individual units cannot afford safety officers; the complex consisting of many MSMEs can together fund a safety officer, to be made mandatory as per law.
  • Ergonomics suggestions given by the executives must be taken into consideration for safe working in the unit. The important ones are taking care to see that the working posture of the employees is proper and comfortable. While working with a hammer, some employees were sitting on the floor surrounded by finished products and a machine. A proper workplace should be provided. The lighting of the working area should be adequate.
  • Units that deal in chemical operations need to look at bulk storage as a possible safety issue.
  • Adoption of Business Continuity Management standards.
  • External help and mutual aid such as agreements with the local police, fire department and hospitals should be arranged.