Managing safety requirements in a fixed plant

The danger of big, bureaucratic safety departments is that the paperwork gets ever more complex, the safety rules get more outlandish and work becomes harder to do and accidents happen. Workers are dictated to by an inexperienced but influential ?safety Gestapo? from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices. The essence of simplicity is lost and replaced by complexity, a product of the cut and paste computer literate generation where little thought is given to on the job practicality.

Smaller operators can operate more safely because managers are generally on the ground and aware of the hazards and risks and develop purpose-built safety management plans.

While attending a safety induction at a big Australian mining operation recently, I was part of a group addressed by the young general manager of the operation. He asked the question ?Are all accidents preventable?? When a new employee of ours replied immediately ?No, they are not?, a hushed silence followed. Realising he had said something wrong, this young employee proceeded to explain that he could trip over while walking out the door of the training room and break his wrist.

He was, of course, correct but the policy of the company is something called ?zero harm? which, in my opinion, is impossible at home and more impossible at work. We will trip, slip, nick, get sunburned, bumped, etc because we are human. Sadly, at this same site a few months later, two workers were killed in a preventable accident.

Our energy as managers needs to be directed at the hazards that can cause the big accidents. This is not to say the nicks, slips, etc are to be ignored. PPE, eliminating trip hazards and similar practical safety measures need management.

However, we must not fail to see the critical few hazards because we are focusing on the insignificant many.

Having worked in the mining industry for 30 years, managed large plants and conducted safety audits at 50 Australian operations, I can say with certainty that the very bad accidents are almost always preventable. Drilling down to the root cause of these accidents always reveals common denominators, like lack of training, inexperience, failure to recognise the hazard, failure to address the hazard, fatigue or human behavioural factors.

So if the root cause of these accidents is the human element, it would be fair to say that the first logical step in improving safety is to improve the culture of the workforce.

Sites with the best safety statistics always have a healthy non-punitive safety culture, a positive workforce, good training structures, practical systems and an acute awareness of how to manage and control the risks at their plant. That is the solid foundation we should strive to achieve.

Statistics indicate that while the incidences of accidents around fixed plant are fairly uncommon, they are almost always serious.
Fortunately, since fixed plant hazards are essentially known and thus deemed manageable, this is an area where the potential risk of working on a plant could be easily reduced.

In a legal perspective, ?gross negligence? can very easily be proven in many of these accidents, this carrying a maximum penalty of two years? imprisonment or a substantial fine – penalties differ from State to State.

If the cause of an accident is non-compliant guarding or emergency stops, for example, then these areas are very definitive in the standards, and would not trouble prosecutors. Conversely, compliance to the Australian Standards is seen as a defence in the event of an accident and subsequent legal action.

So it is quite reasonable to assume that the fairly simple requirements of the Australian Standards pertaining to fixed plant safety can be complied with, and that management might be negligent and not fulfilling their duty of care where these standards are not complied with.
The most important standards governing fixed plant safety are:
? AS 1755 – Conveyors, Design, ?Construction, Installation & Operation – Safety ?Requirements.
? AS 4024.1 – Safeguarding of Machinery.

These standards deal with very practical aspects of machinery safety such as:
? Guarding – mesh size, safe reach, gaps, extent of coverage.
? Emergency stop – lanyards position, ?pre-start warning, pull tension.
? Signs – Lack of warning signs for hazards behind doors, etc.

The standards also address the more complex issues of training, operating and maintenance procedures, documentation required, risk assessment, auditing, etc.

The Australian Standards provide an ?excellent starting point in identifying industry safest practice.

As the manager of (or a stakeholder in) a quarrying operation, you might be asking where to from here. A good safety audit to the relevant standards is a logical, if not ?essential, step.

A proper safety audit will provide the following:
? An identification of all areas of non-compliance and hazards with references to the correct clauses in the standard, with photographs and explanations.
? A risk rating of the non-compliance to the relevant matrix.
? Suggested fixes and solutions.
? Costing for budget purposes.
? An interpretation of the standards where required.
? A flexible platform in which the ?information is stored, enabling customised ?reports, project progress tracking and ?management, sorting and filtering the ?various fields.

A safety auditor should be able to interpret the intent of the standards, and be able to advise managers of the best course of action to make their plant safe.

Management considers legal ?obligations are becoming ever more complex. As ?managers, it is our primary duty of care to provide a safe working environment; making our plant safe to operate and maintain is a part of that obligation. Fixed plant operation and maintenance is, however, an area which is relatively simple to make safe, especially with the right help and advice.

Glenn Segers is the director of Eimquip Services, Wangara, Western Australia.

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