Creating a safety culture

Jan 17, 2013

By Alison Dunn

Roundtable: creating a safety cultureAll the standards, safeguards and safety committees in the world won't help an employer keep employees safe if the company doesn't have a culture of safety.

That's the key takeaway from the group of 10 safety experts who headed to Aurora, ON in late September to take part in Manufacturing AUTOMATION's fourth annual machine safety roundtable.

Employers still see safety as something that "doesn't add any value to the bottom line," says Jeff Mathyssen, regional manager of Electro-Mag. "They say it's an expense. It's not helping me make more product, so if it's not helping me punch out more wheels or more widgets or more pieces of steel, then I’m going to think twice about [implementing] it."

"The prosecutions are incident-driven," agrees Dave Shanahan, project manager, with CSA Group. "Many have the attitude that it’s not going to happen to them, so they don't worry about it."

For 90 minutes, the panelists tackled the issue of machine safety in Canada - the good, the bad and the downright ugly. The good news? New technologies are making it easier than ever to integrate safety into the production line, and there are plenty of affordable (and even free) resources employers can use to achieve safety even in a tough economy.

But that doesn't mean challenges don't lie ahead. The ups and downs of the current world economy mean many employers are putting safety on the backburner, looking to do the bare minimum to meet applicable safety standards and laws. What’s more, not only are they sometimes unaware of the standards, they're often unaware of just how much safety done after-the-fact might cost.

“We get calls almost weekly where we're going in to look at a customer that has been hit with orders from the [Ontario] Ministry of Labour and they really had no idea of the general cost of safeguarding,” says Cory Newton, president of Tekpress Solutions Limited. “Then you come in like the angel of death with these standards in hand and tell them how far they are behind everyone else… that scares them, because they didn't plan for that money.”

All too often, employers are trying to upgrade old equipment with new safety solutions, which is almost a guaranteed way to ensure safety costs will rocket through the roof.

"When we try to take a piece of equipment and modify it to meet current standards, it is difficult because safety hasn’t been engineered into the machine in the first place," says Newton. "It saved a dollar in the beginning, but they wind up spending a lot more in the end."

But all of our roundtable participants agreed that this doesn't have to be the case. Not only can safety be implemented affordably, it can even help the bottom line, improving both productivity and throughput. What’s more, a truly safe workplace is a place where employees want to work, improving hiring and retention rates in the face of a looming skills shortage.

All it takes, say our panelists, is making safety a priority. What follows is some of their best advice.

Safety starts at the top

"Culture is something that has to happen in safety or it doesn't work," says Michael Wilson, machine guarding specialist with Workplace Safety and Prevention Services. "If it's only being driven by one person, it's probably an unsafe environment. If everyone takes ownership, the plant will be clean, the facility will have a healthier safety culture and people will be happy at their jobs."

The best way to instill a safety culture is to start at the top and make sure management not only buys in to safety as a priority, but is willing to invest both time and monetary resources into it.

"When employees know that management is cutting corners, that really sets the wrong tone for the whole safety program," says Jeremy Schwartz, an associate with Stringer LLP Management Lawyers. "All safety rules in the plant are now up for grabs, whether they're efficient or not, if management’s not setting that as a priority."

But it's not enough to get just management on board. To truly achieve safety, you need to involve everyone in the production process, including equipment operators and maintenance staff. It's all well and good to invest in new machines with top-of-the-line safety technology, but it won’t do you any good if your employees won't use them.

"Sometimes it's the workers that don't want new machines because they've gotten used to the old machines," says Mohammad El-Naji, an application specialist with Siemens Canada. "They don't want to learn anything new, and they'll take it up to management and say no, don't bring it in."

But when employees are included in the entire safety process, they'll accept the change, says Dan Fournier, national sales manager, safety, for Omron Automation and Safety. "If [employees] are included in the decision process, I can almost guarantee you, they’re going to make it work," he says. "It's the team environment. When you see that culture in facilities, you see a success."

Get to know your risk

“The one thing I don't see a lot of across Canada is risk assessments,” says Fournier. “Looking at a task/hazard… the tasks that are carried out during the day and what hazards [workers] are exposed to.”

“Risk assessment is a very underutilized tool,” agrees Wilson. The ideal situation, he adds, is to do a proper risk assessment before an incident happens.

At its simplest, a risk assessment is simply looking at each process/machine in the plant and seeing where hazards or risks may exists. “Risk assessment forces people to deal with an issue,” says Stephen Loftus, general manager of Innovative Automation, a 2011 winner of Canada’s Safest Employer award. “You identify the root cause.”

But how do you perform a risk assessment if you've never done one before? Start by getting the right help, advises Mathyssen. Safety experts and specialists who have a background in risk assessment can help set up templates and show you exactly what yours should look like.

If you have a joint health and safety committee (required in Ontario for companies with more than 20 employees), get the right people on the committee, Wilson says.

“In some cases, members of the JHSC don't have experience with machine safety,” he says. “They're doing workplaces inspections, but they don’t know what to look for.”

Once you've got a group of committee members from both management and workers, get everyone trained to do a proper risk assessment - and don't be afraid to mandate risk assessment as part of the committee's duties. “There's no law against management telling the committee or the health and safety representative, ‘We want you to do this,’” Schwartz says. “There is nothing stopping management from saying, ‘We need you to do a health and safety assessment on this area, this machine, this process.’”

Once that risk assessment is done, it's important to follow through with any recommended changes. If an incident or injury occurs and it comes to light that a company didn’t make the necessary changes, both the company and the managers (who could be charged with a criminal offence under Bill 160) are responsible.

Finally, don't forget the need for continual risk assessments. “There's not just a concern for brand-new equipment,” says Shanahan. “There's also a concern about the ongoing performance of that equipment. How reliable is that equipment six months after it's installed? Yes, the equipment was well designed. When it was newly installed, it worked perfectly, it met all the standards and criteria. But you go back three years later, and because of the environment, relays have deteriorated, equipment has been compromised… suddenly, all those safeties that were great at the beginning of the process are no longer reliable.”

Stop thinking of safety as an expense

There's still a perception among employers that safety is an expense - and a big expense at that. That kind of thinking is all wrong, say our panelists. Not only do companies have a legal, ethical and moral obligation to protect their workers, new technologies and resources are making safety more affordable - and a better investment.

“It's never been more affordable,” says Newton. “Some companies, their perception of safeguarding devices is still stuck back in the '70s and early '80s, and don't realize there are devices that can get them closer to the point of operation and that can improve function… and the cost of those devices have dropped dramatically.” But if you're trying to retrofit a machine with safety devices, be forewarned: “The cheapest way to integrate safety is to engineer it from the beginning,” says Loftus. “There's a bigger price tag on the equipment, but the overall budget is less.”

“When you plan safety first for your new machines, it's a good return on investment,” adds Tyrone Penton, sales manager for Advanced Motion & Controls Ltd. “On older equipment, you’re going to see that if you add safety to it, your throughput is doing to be lower.”

Instead, when safety is planned and integrated properly, you can see big gains, not only in safety, but also in the production process. “We can reduce reaction time of our safety circuits and bring a product closer to the machine,” says Daniel Ghizoni, senior solution engineer with B&R Industrial Automation Group. “It makes the operation of the machine more efficient.”

“The people who engineer safety usually have better throughput because the machine becomes simpler to operate,” agrees Loftus. “Their throughput versus their competition is higher, their piece price goes down and they actually make more money.”

A safe environment can also help attract new talent, keep the employees you have, reduce lost time injuries and sick days and just generally make your workers happy. You can also reduce the cost of insurance, Fournier adds. Even the cost of standards and training has decreased substantially. CSA Group, with help from Ontario's Ministry of Labour, now offers many of its standards available for free viewing online so that companies don’t need to shell out money to buy the standards. Similarly, many OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) offer free safety training seminars and conferences to help manufacturers educate themselves on the various safety technologies, rules and regulations so that they can comply before inspectors come knocking or, worse, after someone gets hurt.

Measuring a safety program's success

How can you tell if your safety initiatives are successful? Try measuring a few of these areas:

  1. Near misses: Many companies measure accidents because they're forced to do so, but too many ignore those near misses. Keeping track of how many times employees could have been hurt (even if they weren't) is a good measure of a safety initiative's success. After all, often an accident is only avoided because of quick thinking or just plain luck (like pulling a hand out of a press before the hand is crushed). Reducing the number of near misses means you’re controlling the opportunity for an accident. The fewer near misses, the safer your processes.
  2. Machine downtime: How long does it take for production to get back up and running after a machine is armed? If the safety system is implemented properly, it should be back up very quickly.
  3. Associate participation: A key way of measuring success is by associate participation on the floor. If employees are saying to their supervisors “there's something wrong with that gate,” or “there's something wrong with that light curtain,” the employee is engaged and is part of the safety process. Safety has truly become everyone’s responsibility.
Alison Dunn is acting editor of Manufacturing AUTOMATION magazine. This version of the article has been edited from the original, which appeared in the November/December issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION. To read the entire article and watch video excerpts of the discussion, visit the Manufacturing Automation website.

One panelist's perspective

HSO Network News asked WSPS's machine guarding expert Mike Wilson afterward for his take on the discussion and on creating a culture of safety.

HNN: Given the diversity of representatives on the panel, what did you take away from the discussion?

MW: “It's always good to hear different viewpoints. The panel included people who sell machine safety devices, designers, integrators, standard setters, and prevention organizations such as WSPS. Despite the diversity, it was encouraging to hear everybody singing from the same song sheet when it comes to where we want workplaces to be with their own health and safety programs…

“I was particularly encouraged by the participants' take on a lingering perception in some workplaces that safety is an expense. While safety may have costs associated with it, safety can reduce risks of all kinds that can arise from unsafe operations.

“The best way to minimize both costs and risks is to build safety into your day-to-day operations, starting with equipment and process design.

“Training is another important prevention opportunity, especially when it comes to your health and safety responsibilities. The only way to ensure all workplace parties have an understanding of their responsibilities is through training. The same with risk assessment. You’re not going to know how to do it unless you receive training. If workers and supervisors are trained in hazard identification, for example, you've got every set of eyes in your workplace watching for and reporting on potentially unsafe conditions. This gives the workplace an opportunity to prevent incidents that could lead to losses of any kind.

“Having a well thought out safety program, including training, will certainly contribute to a safe workplace and help create a safety culture.”

How WSPS can help

Workplace Safety and Prevention Services offers a wide range of resources that can help you create and sustain a safety culture, develop a comprehensive health and safety program, and address specific challenges along the way. Check out the full scope of information, training and consulting resources offered by WSPS and our Health & Safety Ontario partners.