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5 Challenges Facing Safety Managers in 2023

Written by
Richard Ward
Published on
January 2, 2023 8:19:31 AM PST January 2, 2023 8:19:31 AM PSTnd, January 2, 2023 8:19:31 AM PST

Manufacturing is in an exciting but precarious position. Companies are bringing jobs and production back to the U.S. in record numbers. Demands are high and factories are humming. But as production needs soar, so too are challenges like the growing labor shortage, employee health and safety, lost productivity due to absenteeism and turnover, and supply chain issues.  

As a custom anti-fatigue mat manufacturer, we talk to a lot of safety managers about their challenges and what they're doing to navigate them. Here are 5 challenges facing safety managers in 2023 based on these conversations.

1. Skills and Labor Shortage 

Manufacturing is squarely in the midst of a candidate-driven market. What does candidate-driven mean? There are 900,000 open manufacturing roles that need to be filled. By 2030, this is predicted to reach 2.1 million. Warehouse, plant, factory, and lab workers have options and are being selective. 


Whether new to the field or long tenured, they are taking the roles that best suit their personal and professional needs. And they’re leaving places that don’t.

We recently talked to a safety manager for a food production company with over 50,000 employees about their recruitment challenges. They hired someone they thought was the right fit, did all the paperwork, and had a full week of introductory training. The individual quit two days later to take a different job.


Understandably, over 80% of manufacturing leaders say recruitment and retention is their biggest challenges in 2023.

Practical steps you can take 

Start by examining the state of your work environment. It’s not enough anymore to offer only “competitive pay and benefits.” Teams want proven health and safety initiatives, work-life balance, clean work areas that elevate productivity rather than work against it, and leaders who do more than talk about employee well-being. 


Does your warehouse draw in new recruits or turn them away? Does your lab make workers feel safe and their health valued? Are they standing on hard cement or metal grating for 8+ hours a day? Are there trip hazards in your plant like awkwardly positioned and raised cable covers, old anti-fatigue mats with tears and broken borders, or other slipping and falling hazards?   

Before-after in a warehouse for national wine and spirits distributor. Before shows bacteria build up due to frequent spills, stacked mats and other tripping hazards. After shows newly installed AcroMat X60 Series mats with anti-slip qualities, ergonomic support, and liquid-proof closed cell nitrile rubber foam.

2. Absenteeism and Productivity 

In warehouses, plants, labs, and factories, employees fill specialized and skilled positions that play a key role in the manufacturing process. An absent employee not only impacts their immediate role but every other function downstream. 


A healthy absenteeism rate is considered 1.5-1.8%. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in manufacturing it’s nearly double (3.1%). This cost manufacturing companies nearly $3 billion 2022.

Muscular skeletal disorders (MSDs) are the leading cause of absenteeism and rising workers' compensation costs in manufacturing. They develop gradually over time and are injuries that impact muscles, tendons, nerves, cartilage, joints, and the spine. 

Common MSDs include:   

  • Arthritis  
  • Rotator cuff strains  
  • Tendonitis  
  • Sciatic nerve issues  
  • Plantar fasciitis  
  • Shin splints  
  • Chronic back pain  

Practical steps you can take 

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, there is a direct connection between work environment and the development of MSDs.

Here are 4 ways safety managers are working to reduce MSDs and, in turn, absenteeism:

I. Workplace policies – Mandatory breaks, shorter shifts, rotating shifts (e.g., 3 days on, 2 days off), rotating roles (e.g., sit for a time, stand for a time). 

II. Equipment and machinery – Mobile options like forklifts, easily navigable carts, conveyor belts. 

III. Preventative care – Encouraging routine health checkups, offering chiropractic care as part of health plans.

IV. Ergonomic solutions Premium anti-fatigue mats, knee pads, orthopedic insoles, modular tiles. 

3. Early Retirements 

Baby Boomers (55+) make up 25% of the 16+ million manufacturing workforce. They bring valuable skills and experience, high character and work ethic, and leadership qualities. They are also key to the future of manufacturing, as they help train and grow entry-level staff. According to the Manufacturing Institute, 90% of surveyed leaders say they rely heavily on their 55+ employees. 


Baby Boomers leaving the industry is one of the biggest culprits of the labor shortage. But why are they leaving? 



Health is the number one reason for early retirement according to the Center for Retirement Research. It’s also one of the main reasons younger workers leave their jobs. This is especially true in a field where employees work long hours, have demanding production goals, stand for extended periods of time, and deal with heavy equipment and machinery. 

Practical steps you can take 

Give Baby Boomers a reason to stay. Prioritize their health, safety, and productivity. Make sure they go home as healthy as when they arrived, and that they have the tools needed to be protected from injuries like MSDs and other safety hazards. One option is premium and customized anti-fatigue mats. 

Premium mats reduce employee fatigue and joint impact by 30-50%. Unlike traditional floor mats, these ergonomic mats provide a balance of comfort and support that stimulate healthy blood flow – like staying hydrated, eating healthy, quitting smoking, and stretching. The ergonomic qualities help reduce MSDs like chronic neck, back, and lower extremity issues that come with standing for long periods of time and working extended hours.  

The AcroMat 100-1 Series Anti-Fatigue Mat, as an example, is made from 100% nitrile rubber foam. Unlike lower-quality materials, nitrile foam doesn’t break down over time, meaning workers experience the joint and pressure relief for the entire 3-8 year lifespan of the mat.  

Custom mats designed for the work area also improve safety by replacing stacked or broken mats (trip hazard) – eliminating work on hard surfaces, covering bulging cable covers with designs that do not rise beyond the mat thickness (example in Trend 4), and clearly highlighting entry and exit points. 

Stacking mats creates a trip hazard and inconsistent support, contributing to MSDs. The old mats in this plant have lost their ergonomic benefit, and the multiple pieces require workers to step on/off the mats repeatedly throughout a shift.


Designed with our mat building tool AcroSketch, this custom 100-1 Series mat provides anti-fatigue and anti-slip support over the entire work area. The yellow beveled edges highlight entry and exit points.

Related: 7 Common Anti-Fatigue Mat Safety Hazards  

4. Supply Chain 

Supply chain challenges impact manufacturing more than any other industry. In a late 2022 survey by the National Association of Manufacturers, nearly 80% of leaders said supply chain disruptions was a key concern for the year ahead. 

But there is a silver lining to this challenge. Manufacturing companies are bringing jobs and production back to the U.S. in record numbers to reduce reliance on vulnerable global supply chains. The “made in America” resurgence is real. Manufacturing employment grew at a 4% annual rate over the course of 2022 – the fastest sustained pace of growth since the mid-1980's.

Practical steps you can take 

While some supply chain issues are out of your control, there is a direct link between supply chain disruption and the labor shortage. The lack of skilled workers is woven throughout the supply chain – including production, warehousing, distribution, and logistics. In brief, being unable to find and keep the workers you need makes it difficult to keep up with consumer demand. 


With production demands soaring and 2+ million jobs predicted to be unfilled by 2030, give yourself a leg up by positioning your workplaces to motivate candidates to join, skilled workers to stay, and both to produce at a high level. 

This factory removed a raised cable cover, a trip hazard and obstacle for mobile machinery, with a customized AcroMat Diamond NitriTuf mat. The mat includes flat cable covers that don't rise beyond the 5/8 in. mat thickness. The beveled edges allow easy on/off access without tripping, and the mat has a life expectancy of up to 8 years without breakdown of the ergonomic benefits.

5. Safety and Workers Compensation 

Safety remains the top issue in manufacturing. Safety helps you find and keep skilled workers, reduce early retirements, limit accidents and absenteeism, and improve productivity. The No. 1 one cause for workplace injuries? Trips, slips, and falls. The national average for trip and fall settlements? Over $100,000. 

Safety directly affects your bottom line.

Setting aside the legal issues and lost productivity, safety managers care deeply about sending their people home healthy to their families.

Practical steps you can take 

In our experience, the best companies at safety are proactive. They establish a safety council that meets regularly, conduct safety walks, promote safety with signs and messaging, encourage and reward those who speak up with safety concerns and, most importantly, are not afraid to invest in improvements so there is noticeable change for their employees.

There’s an opportunity to go even further on safety than addressing traditional tipping and slipping hazards. Some anti-fatigue solutions directly contribute to keeping your workforce healthy beyond just the physical.

Premium mats like the 100-1 Series explored above are:

I. Antimicrobial – Antibacterial products kill only bacteria. Antimicrobial products kill and prevent the growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Harmful bacteria can build up underneath and even inside mats that soak up liquids from spills. This can cause serious illness among workers, especially those who are immunocompromised. Though serious illnesses are rare, bacteria and allergens can cause common illnesses like strep throat, tuberculosis and urinary tract infections – each of which contribute to absenteeism. 

II. Chemical resistant – Many factories, labs and clean rooms deal with liquids, fluids, and various chemicals. Chemical-resistant and impervious mats don’t allow harmful chemicals to soak into the mat fabric; mats can be pressured washed, and spills can be easily scrubbed away. Permeable mats often soak up chemicals, causing masts to crack (tripping hazard and requiring new mat purchases earlier than necessary), allowing bacteria to build up, and impacting health with prolonged exposure.  

III. Latex and silicon free, non-allergenic – Latex-free products stop workers from developing onset allergies due to repeated exposure. This keeps them at work. Silicon in mat fabric more easily tears/breaks down, contributing to productivity disruptions more quickly and requiring new mat purchases earlier than necessary. By contract, silicon-free materials like 100% nitrile rubber foam has high tensile strength and excellent wear and abrasion resistance. 

This custom AcroMat 100-1 Series mat wraps around a wash sink in a lab for one of the world's largest medical technology companies. The drainage holes prevent slips in an area prone to spills. The nitrile rubber foam is latex free, silicon free, non-allergenic, impervious to liquids and 100% antimicrobial – not allowing harmful bacteria or mold to grow in a high-moisture area.

Find Out What Drives Your Workforce 

One last action step we’ve found valuable and the best safety managers make a regular habit of: Talk to your people. One in 5 manufacturing workers say they are “very likely” or “extremely likely” to leave their jobs this year. But this means 80% are planning to stay! 

As the industry faces a number of challenges, many the result of the growing labor shortage, find out what drives your workforce – what motivated them to join, what motivates them to stay, what do they value most at work, what concerns do they have about their current environment, and how might they adjust operations to improve safety or efficiency?  

This information can be helpful as you navigate the challenges above. Use it to keep your teams safe, healthy, and productive in 2023 and beyond.



We launched AcroSketch in 2022, the only tool of its kind. AcroSketch is our custom mat builder that allows you to design the mats you need 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – any length, shape, size, angles, or pivots – with no added costs for customization. Receive an instant quote when done building your mat. Orders are guaranteed to ship within 10 business days. Orders over $100 ship for free.

Try AcroSketch today! 

Book a brief demo with our team to learn more.